Most people consume vastly more data than they’re capable of digesting nowadays. Personal and public communications, collections and archives increasingly exist in digital, rather than physical, forms. Compressed, data proliferates. As a result, we find ourselves functioning as nonstop filters of too much information. Michael Bell-Smith’s recent exhibition-titled “mbs_fp_090712,” suggesting a show delivered to the gallery via zip file-consisted of four digital projections that encapsulate this peculiar contemporary condition.
With a bombardment of motion effects and graphics, the HD video Magic Hands (2012) seeks to monopolize attention. Two disembodied hands on screen continually reach out to the viewer, producing a series of objects and digital tricks. Against a pixelated brick-wall backdrop, one of the hands offers an egg, which spontaneously breaks open, its yolk splattering. In the palm of the same hand, sparkly pink pixie dust coalesces into the form of a paisley tie. The phrase “free lunch” pops up at the bottom of the screen, calling to mind the promises that flash incessantly amid online content. Following a seascape, a window materializes, only to be cracked by a finger jab. The scene is manually zoomed in on with Apple’s trademark reverse-pinch function and then flicked off to the side, raising the question of copyright and authorship in this realm of mix-and-match visual signs.
De-Employed (2002) similarly splices together an assortment of random, disconnected imagery. The viewer is confronted with a white couch, a houseplant, graffiti doodles riddled with bullet holes, a school of yellow fish, a nice red tomato, part of an opening sequence from “Law and Order.” Transitions are made by way of stock, outdated digital effects-the screen, for instance, appears to rip in half like a piece of paper or to shatter like glass-bringing to mind high-school-reunion slide shows or routine office presentations. Colorful designs evoking jazzed-up PowerPoint diagrams crop up throughout.
Books, CDs, DVDs, shopping bags and envelopes come and go in The White Room (2012). Products in need of retail appeal, they rotate from front to back, upside down to right side up, free of names or logos and bearing only prefab patterns recalling those sold in Adobe’s Creative Suite. Bursts of elevator-type music sound out every so often, enhancing the feeling of a bland consumer bubble.
Waves Clock (2012), a projection generated using custom software, features an analog clock that displays the actual time of day in the gallery. The clock slowly floats around the screen against footage of an ocean scene. Birds pass by and waves roll in, distracting from the roving timepiece, which, in turn, distracts from the natural background. By making it difficult to focus on either the clock or the landscape, Bell-Smith conveys an important message about our mediated present: the more information we pack in on our various screens, the more it risks becoming nothing but visual noise.
Photo: Michael Bell-Smith: Waves Clock, 2012, custom software; at Foxy Production.