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curator's statement: Sheryl Conkelton,   Henry Art Gallery, The Art Museum of the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 1999

Phase = Time   1999
Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, Washington, June 11 - October 3, 1999.

Installation with two video projectors, eight speakers, rear screen]

In Jennifer Steinkamp's art, purely optical phenomenon becomes profoundly physical. Like the previous generation of early abstract filmmakers such as Hollis Frampton and Stan Brakhage, and California Light and Space artists James Turrell and Robert Irwin, Steinkamp is concerned with the profound experience of abstract visual phenomenon. Her works produce optical illusions in which the imagery has visceral impact rather than narrative meaning, often dissolving architecture in a flux of light and color. Her projected light installations acknowledge the body of the spectator, sometimes with interactivity and often by incorporating the rhythms of breathing or swallowing, or of the heart beating. The effect is one of being  submerged within a natural order or transported to another level of somatic experience; the real world is subsumed and transformed by image and sound.

At every step in the creation of a work, the computer is an integral tool. Steinkamp uses the computer to create a simulated dimensional model of space in which she'll work, then a series of renderings for the deployment of projectors and speakers within that space. To design the program that will result in the projected imagery, she often begins with commercially available software that simulates natural visual phenomenon such as moving water and gravity, then manipulates the "found object" program to her own specifications. In Phase = Time, she incorporates a soundtrack composed by long-time collaborator Jimmy Johnson. Steinkamp, who has worked with Disney and produced computer-animation for the band U2, says "My work is really about using complex technology in a basic way.  I'm very interested in an exploration of spatial abstraction rather than allowing technology to take over."

The experience of Steinkamp's installations is reminiscent of the 1960s and that generation's challenging of the status quo with a kind of mind-blowing optimism. She explores the position of the viewers by challenging their stability. She is interested the shifting of perspective which affects an exchange of the space and the spectator within as subject-in what she calls intersubjectivity. For Phase = Time, Steinkamp built a curved scrim and uses rear-screen projection to materialize the gallery's fourth wall as a flow of light and color. The new wall shimmers and pulsates in a way that is fascinating and implies danger.  By moving in the gallery space the viewer activates sensors that affect the equipment and change its visual and audial rhythms.

Steinkamp's use of technology challenges our expectations of machine-dependent art. She creates work that makes viewers very aware of their own sensations and responses as organic beings, and that presents them with the possibility of activating their own experience. Her exploration of technological abstraction is ambitious but resolutely human and humanist.

Phase  = Time was commissioned by the Henry Art Gallery as part of a series on new technologies, Future Forward: Projects in New Media, and is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. The series includes two additional commissions of works by artists Inigo Manglano-Ovalle and Tony Oursler, whose work will be shown in exhibitions that open in January and May 2000 respectively. Each artist participated in a collaborative residency, working with University of Washington resources and private companies engaged in technologies related to their work.

Sheryl Conkelton