On view in GFS’s West Gallery June 2, 2018 — January 10, 2021, Michael Rees: Synthetic Cells presented an unparalleled dialogue between object, perception, and reality. Recognized internationally as one of the pioneers of new digital media, Michael Rees has continually pushed the boundaries of sculpture creating thoughtful viewer-to-object encounters. There is always a sense of discovery of new materials and technologies across Rees’ oeuvres. These sculptures challenged the viewer to experience how the boundaries of our physical and digital experiences are converging. The exhibition was curated by GFS Chief Curator, Tom Moran.
Since the advent of our internet age, Michael Rees has been redefining objects by using digital technology and innovative material to engage contemporary themes and subjects with sculpture. The object serves as the starting point for a variety of social, psychological, spiritual and political issues in Rees’ work. In this exhibition, he continued to explore materials by using inflatable objects—supplemented with the overlay of augmented reality—to add multiple layers of complex semiotic relationality. Inflatable objects have historically been seen in utopian furniture, architecture, and toys dating back to the 1960s.
Rees’ work is equal parts science fiction, sculpture, architecture, and philosophy, as he creates multivalent, accessible experiences for viewers of all ages. For this project, the artist created seven 10-foot cube sculptures in varying hues of vinyl as well as augmented reality dioramas of animals and insects, activated by tablet computers that are part of the exhibition. Images applied to the walls and the vinyl skin of five of the seven cubes become triggers for that augmented reality experience. Hovering a tablet device near these images generated a composite view, or augment, for the visitor that overlays the tangible work. Through the supplied tablet’s viewfinder, the visitor experienced the actual sculpture combined with a computer-generated virtual layer, a collage of the virtual and the real. Rees has described the exhibition as the collision of utopias, first the older inflatable designs then overlaid by the augmented reality pieces.
Inspired by contemporary network culture and the concept of the “Chautauqua,” a popular movement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that brought together the arts, sciences, and politics for educational opportunities, Michael Rees invited other artists to participate in the augment portion of this project. Site (Para) Site, the augmented reality portion of this exhibition, was guest curated by noted digital experts, Murat Orozobekov and Edward Winkleman, who founded the Moving Image. These digital overlays were created by Michael Rees as well as three other artists invited to collaborate on this project: Claudia Hart, Chris Manzione, and Will Pappenheimer. In the fall of 2018, three more artists supplied augmented reality experiences: John Craig Freeman, Tamiko Thiel, and Carla Gannis. Prior experience with technology is not necessary for visitors to enjoy the virtual environment that the augments create.
Michael Rees: Synthetic Cells was funded in part by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and the following exhibitions supporters: Gordon and Lulie Gund.