Emergent Submersives | 11 August - 5 September 2009
Marcia Lyons learnt to deep-sea dive to record the mysterious sounds made by Humpback whales. In Emergent Submersives, her first solo exhibition in New Zealand, she invites viewers to immerse themselves in a deeply blue, expansive sea environment, replete with whale sounds, and to share the eerie underwater experience.
Emergent Submersives, is based on the artist's research over the past year into the mysterious 'toning' performed by Humpback whales in the Hawaiian waters between Maui, Lanai and Molokai islands - a little understood ritual (possibly akin to chanting) that they are believed to have carried out at the same point for millions of years. As scientists investigate this phenomenon, so too, Lyons' probes prevailing views, political attitudes and knowledge surrounding the whales behaviour.
Lyons asks gallery goers to enter a virtual world and to feel the almost inconceivable pressure experienced by the diver during descent to the depths - an experience that in Evolutions, the main work in the exhibition, she has abstracted out and projected back as a live or movie-painting. To achieve this, she compressed the sites depicted in her underwater footage by rescaling moments and mirroring them back through a process of real-time slit-scan editing (a process which slices the video footage to reassemble slices of moments in time). The viewer, then, is asked to reconstitute or reconfigure the audiovisual information by actively immersing their senses in a cinematic journey.
A novel feature of the exhibition for viewers with Bluetooth enabled on their phones, is the opportunity to take part in what may be seen as an experiment in interspecies communication exchange. Simulating whale communicating behavior, Bluetooth will automatically send ocean 'sound waves' to viewers cell phones.
In another 'movie painting', 'Fish' Truman, Lyons' portrays a salty sea tourist adrift and bobbing on the sea's surface - vulnerable and unaware of the teaming underworld pulsing beneath him. Employing a figurative realism in this work and mixing cinema-painting and sonic installation, Lyons' blurs the borders between reality and virtual reality, between fiction and documentary to create suspense and suggest narrative possibilities.
As an educator, Lyons has taught courses based in the virtual world and she has long been interested in notions of space or time travel. These are, or course, abstract ideas but, with contemporary life dominated and mediated by the media and Internet, they involve a now familiar kind of internal consciousness. And in the end, Lyons' method of abstraction of experience from the deep is created not solely by the artist but equally by viewers assembling the components intuitively inside their bodies...travelling in cinematic space.
An American, now resident in New Zealand, Lyons has been working at the forefront of digital arts practice since the early-1990s, as both an artist and educator. She has exhibited in the United States and in Europe; career highlights include winning the prestigious Rome Prize of the American Academy in Rome in 1997 and inclusion in the 1994 exhibition by the Aldridge Contemporary Art Museum, In the lineage of Eva Hesse. She established the Digital Media Fine Arts programme at Cornell University in the United States in 1998 and came to New Zealand in 2005 to develop the Digital Media programme at Victoria University of Wellington.