UF Digital Worlds faculty and alumni collaborate for ‘In The Machine’ exhibition showcasing the convergence of technology and art

Written by: Ryan Helterhoff (MAMC ‘23)

Visitors explore the exhibition ‘In The Machine’ at the 4Most Gallery in Gainesville, Florida

Faculty and alumni from the University of Florida’s Digital Worlds Institute are currently exhibiting their work in a collaborative exhibition centered on emerging technologies at Gainesville’s 4Most Gallery from December 23, 2022 to January 13, 2023. The exhibition, titled In The Machine, brings together artists working in emerging technologies to showcase the relationship between the physical and digital worlds, and spur reflection on the role of technology in our daily lives. It’s also the first technology-based art to be displayed at the 4Most Gallery since its inception.

The exhibition features work by Digital Worlds lecturers Chelsea Cantrell and Aaron Karlson, as well as MiDAS alumni Ines Said and Austin Stanbury. The goal of the exhibition is to explore the boundaries between physical and digital art, showcase how various technologies have impacted our daily lives, and reflect on how people interact with them in unique ways.

The gallery exhibition, organized by MiDAS alum Austin Stanbury, allows visitors to explore their relationship with machines and the ways in which they are a fundamental part of our world experience.

“The title of the exhibit begs the question of what exactly is in the machine,” Stanbury said. “On one level, we are a part of the machine. Our society is fed through the institution of phones, and we interact with virtual content and art every day. I hope the title of the show inspires the audience to consider themselves in relation to machines of all kinds, and to investigate how that has impacted our experience of the world.”

Throughout the exhibition, this sense of technological overload is conveyed through a variety of mediums. From augmented reality to interactive displays, it seeks to reveal this all-encompassing technological prevalence that many of us take for granted in our everyday lives.

“I don’t think it’s always obvious how much machines have impacted our culture,” said Stanbury. “Of course everyone says no phones at the dinner table, but even when you drive through a neighborhood, everything from the road to the architecture of the houses was pre-planned on CAD software and computers. In a certain sense, the impact of machines is so omnipresent and inescapable that it’s almost impossible to comprehend.”

While the exhibition’s central theme is our relationship with technology, each artist’s interpretation of the concept In The Machine is unique. For 3D Animator and lecturer Aaron Karlson, the exhibit served as an opportunity to explore the challenge of making digital art look as imperfect as the physical.

“Of course digital sculpting is a very clean process, but I make the sculptures look as though you’re actually making them out of clay — that they’re unfinished,” said Karlson. “It’s kind of this play on the fact that in the digital world, it actually takes more work to make something look unfinished in a tangible sense”.

“From The Digital Clay” by DW lecturer Aaron Karlson explores the challenge of making a digital sculpture appear unfinished

This play on the relationship between physical and digital mediums embraces Digital Worlds’s sometimes unconventional convergence of technology and art. Other exhibits, such as 2D artist and lecturer Chelsea Cantrell’s display of Cyanotypes, capture this convergence.

“My work demonstrates the opposite ends of imaging temporally,” said Cantrell. “Cyanotype prints represent one of the earliest methods of photography, while VR models represent emerging technology, leaning into that mesh of technology and art. My pieces incorporate nature themes and simultaneously celebrate timelessness alongside the future of imaging.”

Cyanotypes are an early form of image processing dating back to the 1800s, created by coating paper in a light-sensitive chemical solution, placing objects on the paper, and exposing it to light to leave behind an impression of the object.

“I chose to include botanical cyanotypes specifically because of their origin in history from both a visual and social perspective,” said Cantrell. “Anna Atkins, an English Botanist and Photographer, is considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images using this exact process. As an illustrator and photographer myself, I wanted my work to honor her role in imaging and as a woman in the machine.”

Celebrating both the past and future of imagery, DW lecturer Chelsea Cantrell uses elements of nature in her piece titled “In Flight Cyanotype” to honor trailblazers like Anna Atkins and others who helped establish photography as an art form

The simplicity of cyanotypes are a nice contrast to the complex virtual reality models Cantrell also created for the exhibit. The two VR models Cantrell created for the exhibition are made up of moving 3D elements that all come together to form a single scene.

“The virtual reality paintings on display were created using a software called Quill,” said Cantrell. “This software embodies the development of visualization in every direction, as it allows the user to paint, edit, and animate directly in the same space. This completely changed my concept development phase. What would normally take me 3 separate work pipelines across different software is now merged into one single space.”

A still of one of the VR models on display in the exhibition. Created by DW lecturer Chelsea Cantrell

When it came time to exhibit, Stanbury saw an opportunity to bring together some of the institute’s best artists who were working in this convergent space. The group decided to exhibit at the 4Most Gallery, an off-campus art gallery for the University of Florida School of Art + Art History that hosts a variety of exhibitions from UF and the local Gainesville community.

“What an amazing opportunity, really, for Digital Worlds to come together and show off what the institute is all about,” said Stanbury. “It sort of seemed obvious at that point who to get in touch with and what the show would be about. Our work is in emerging technologies which can be challenging to display in a gallery since it’s intangible in some sense or you have to work with complicated devices while still making it accessible to the public.”

Despite their shared expertise in emerging technologies, the exhibition remains an eclectic mix. This proved difficult at first because they were unsure how they would combine their disparate work into a cohesive display.

“We were thinking about how to get all our individual work to go together, ‘’ said Karlson. “We quickly realized that it already does just by the nature of existing. When contextualized through the idea of being ‘in the machine’, it groups these artworks together without forcing us to conform to a specific aesthetic. It’s all art and it’s all technology, too.”

The artists have brought together a variety of artworks that, while different, all share a common theme thanks to their various areas of specialization. To truly grasp the theme of being In The Machine, Stanbury stressed the importance of interacting and engaging with the exhibition’s pieces.

“At first glance, you might wonder how these very different and, in some ways, conflicting pieces can coexist in the same exhibit,” Stanbury explained. “It’s really the notion of machinery, computer-generated art in all its forms, and its impact on our lives that brings all these varying pieces together. As you move through the exhibition, you’ll see how these digital art modalities and formats have evolved and changed over time, as well as where they might go next.”

Austin Stanbury displays his pieces “Living” and “Mid-Century Mic” at the “In The Machine” exhibition

Karlson hopes audiences view the exhibition from an art history perspective — as representative of a shift in what society defines as art. As digital artists and developers, the exhibitors are not only able to mold the future of digital art, but can influence the very definition of art itself.

“From the post-renaissance period through the beginning of the 20th century, you see people defining what an art object was,” said Karlson. “As new technology was introduced, they then had to determine what was to be let into these spaces.”

This shifting definition of what art was led to the introduction of new modalities and methods of artistic expression, such as the focus on photography over the last 100 years. The definition continues to evolve as technology continues to progress, but now with an emphasis on interactivity.

“I was recently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and there was a PlayStation 4 in the gallery display,” said Karlson. “Only in the last 20 years has interactivity not been seen just as a technological service but as a way to define what an art object is. When you put interactive technology in a gallery space like we have, that juxtaposition with other types of art really makes people rethink the objects they interact with every day.”

Outside the exhibition, each artist stays busy creating in the realm of emerging technology. MiDAS alums Ines Said and Austin Stanbury recently presented their innovative AR project “Covid Reflections” at the 28th ACM Symposium on Virtual Reality Software and Technology (VRST) in Tsukuba, Japan. The project uses interactive AR to increase vaccine confidence, and was created in collaboration with the UF Center for Arts in Medicine. The two MiDAS alums also recently published a paper on the role of Augmented Reality in communicating public health alongside Digital Worlds Associate Professor Amelia Winger-Bearskin. Artwork from Stanbury currently on display will also be shown in April 2023 at the CICA Museum in Gimpo, South Korea for the international exhibition Abstract Mind 2023.

In The Machine is on display from December 23, 2022 — January 13, 2023 at the 4Most Gallery in Gainesville, FL.



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