“Rational Aesthetics”: Innovative art exhibit opens at UMKC

“Rational Aesthetics,” by Robert Howsare, is an adventurous examination of production and performance employing an innovative combination of sound, light and space in each work.

Upon entertaining the gallery, viewers are met with the scene of two record players side by side, acting as a drawing apparatus . Both records have thin planks of wood attached to them, which are connected with screws that allow articulated movement. On the end of the “arm” is a pen moving along a large piece of paper, drawing complex geometric designs.

Known simply as “Drawing Apparatus,” this work makes clear from the very beginning the atmosphere of the exhibit. The constant movement of the arms, sound of the running turntables and the collection of past drawings above the machine give the feeling of having entered a factory.

This work also helps illustrate one of the great questions posed by this exhibit: the relationship between artist and tool. In a situation like this, where the art is created by a mechanism put together by the artist, can any art made by it be considered the artist’s work? At what degree of creative separation is it made clear the real place of the artist in such a work? Can any of the drawings made by this machine even be considered art when its only connection, its work, is purely a product of production?

Around the corner is a darkly lit room housing the exhibit’s loudest work: “IV Phases.”  A group of four projectors lined up against each other project mysterious film being cycled through them onto a two-way mirror suspended from the ceiling, which simultaneously projects a refracted version of the film back on the projectors while casting a linear shadow on the wall behind it. The images on the film are patterns of different colors painted with ink directly onto the 16mm film.

The noise is the element that leads viewers to it: a cacophonous, droning, loud, industrial overlapping of sounds,clicks,beeps and horns give the film a surreal and unnerving soundtrack.

Complete creative detachment makes “IV Phases” stand out from the other works. After little running time, the projectors begin to play sections of film and sound at different times shifting the work’s visual and auditory elements. Though each is running individually, as a group they gradually change the work as a whole. This aspect of chance adds a new mechanical independence to the work.

What should be taken away from an exhibit like “Rational Aesthetics” are the questions it raises and the answers it refuses to give. For an exhibit like this, one visit will not be enough. Robert Howsare’s “Rational Aesthetics” is currently being shown at the UMKC Fine Arts Gallery through Feb. 15.

jhill@unews.com

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