A New Show at CAF Explores Our Precarious Relationship with New Media

Every day we are bombarded with new technological advancements, internet trends and messages from the media that cause our language and culture to evolve faster than individuals can adapt. The idea that television and the Internet are turning our brains into “mush” is a theme explored in the current exhibit at Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, also known as CAF, called “Things That Turn Your Brains to Mush.”

CAF’s spring show features work by local artists and comments on the negative effects that television and the Internet have on kids. Santa Barbara-based artist and curator Warren Schultheis invites artists to address specific issues, such as this one, through their work, creating dialogue citywide.

The artists further address society’s reluctance to embrace new media and language through the growing medium of the animated GIF. A GIF (graphics interchange format) is a multi-frame, moving image that can be viewed in any web-browser. The GIF was created to add motion to simple icons in early web-design and has rapidly transformed into a widespread cultural phenomenon.

By using the GIF as a point of discussion in this exhibit, whether in a video, painted or sculpted, the artists challenge the viewers to think about the “fear of the new” in contemporary media. As I walked throughout the gallery’s rooms, I observed many different video clips and GIFs playing at once. The gallery itself read as a cohesive piece as technology permeated the walls in various forms and images repetitively flashed on their screens.

One of the seven local artists featured in the show is second-year UCSB MFA student Chris Silva. He created an installation called “Something from Nothing.” This piece, like much of his work, comments on technology and production. The installation consisted of a large fan blowing paper onto the wall of the gallery, holding them in place. Each white piece of paper had an image of a yellow car printed on it. When discussing the idea behind his work, Silva told me that he had actually first thought of using leaf blowers instead of a fan. However, leaf blowers would be far too loud for the entire gallery setting, so he scaled it down so that the noise in the gallery was tolerable and could not be heard throughout every room.

Another series that I enjoyed in the show were works by Yoon Chung Han called “Tree Rings” (2012), which were circular slabs of wood neatly cut and hung on the wall with tree rings laser cut into them using a computer generated program. I liked the way the works hung on the wall and how they consisted of both natural and calculated elements in making the spiral.

Han also had a video and audio piece that featured alternating videos of a program he created on the computer to generate tree ring patterns. As the viewer watches the tree rings being digitally drawn, he or she listens to short recordings of different places Han has been to, such as the forest surroundings in Denmark, or the sound of a fountain trickling water.

I was drawn to five iPads hanging on the wall of the gallery, all playing different video clips at once. I found this display of artist Tellef Tellefson’s piece “This Time Deeper” (2013) very interesting, because each clip or animated GIF could be read as its own piece, yet they were all grouped together to be read as one work. The content of the GIFs were both iconic imagery that I recognized from television and abstract imagery that was hard for me to distinguish. Tellefson’s piece in particular very strongly conveyed the overall themes of the show, as his source of display was a technological device, bombarding the viewer with images that repeat in an endless loop.

CAF curator Schultheis writes that, “the artwork in ‘Things That Turn Your Brains to Mush,’ whether physical or digital, explore the relationship between humans and technology, through a language that is the product of their complex union.” I did not take away an overall negative tone to technological advancement in the artwork, but rather a marriage between both art and new media to create more minimalistic work that consisted of experimenting with GIFs as a medium.

I would highly suggest visiting CAF, which is located on the second floor of the Paseo Nuevo mall in downtown Santa Barbara. Go have your brain simultaneously “mushed” and enriched while the show is still open, until June 16.



 A version of this article appeared on page 11 of the April 18th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus