“When it comes to code and software, I’m really just an amateur,” said Kristin Lucas in a 2013 interview for this magazine. The new media artist’s concern is not mastery of technology, but rather its demystification. Her results are often glitchy and imperfect. Per Lucas, this approach “reinserts traces of labor and production into something that would otherwise be seamless.” In that sense, her practice resides between the slickness of innovative tech art and the boundless enthusiasm of Post-Internet art, which translates Web culture into both screen-based and traditional mediums.
Lucas’s recent exhibition with frequent collaborator Joe McKay, titled “Away from Keyboard,” promised to “playfully redirect the user experience away from everyday prescriptive movements,” according to the vaguely techy language of the accompanying artists’ statement. But the only pieces that actually changed the way visitors physically interacted with technology were three “Tablet Tumblers” (all works 2015). Created by Lucas and McKay under the brand name Electric Donut, these sculptures take the form of waist-height aluminum cylinders that mimic cable spools. Around the central axis of each, six Android tablets are affixed at regular intervals. Rather than being activated by touch, the tablets respond when the spools are rolled across the floor, displaying data such as a Google Maps image with a red line being drawn across it and views of Earth from Mars. A related six-channel video installation, Tablet Tumbler: Flat Roller, shows footage from 11 tumblers equipped with cameras rolled through homes. Developed over several years with support from multiple institutions, the quasi-clunky “Tablet Tumblers” show some degree of technical prowess. But instead of revealing the lengths to which nonprofessionals must go to reconfigure the touch-screen interface built into mass-market tablets, the toylike medium threatens to trump the message.
McKay’s computer game Omega Mouse boiled down technological disorientation to its simplest form. The rudimentary shooter game for up to six players takes place on a wobbly 3-D field, complete with gridlines, which tilts as more players join the action.
Lucas created a more pointed trio of works on the theme of climate change in South Florida. Sole Soaker is a single-player video game where the user “walks” along a twisting roller coaster above a distinctly swampy landscape with rising sea levels. The player might topple off the ride, finding herself submerged in oceanic depths. Once in the ocean, she bobs along for a minute or two before water levels fall, returning her to the ground. Sick Waves, a video, shows dizzying images of a crashing surf rotating at different speeds in concentric rings. The least successful work in the trio is the most conventional: Inventory, a sculpture resembling a surfside refreshment cart with 3-D-printed replicas of items like ice cream cones and sunglasses.
The strength of Lucas and McKay’s work lies in its refusal to be classified. It doesn’t fit snugly within established aesthetic categories, since its obsolescent technology is neither completely polished nor willfully neophyte. As technology marches forward, it will be fascinating to see how they navigate the course.