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New media students push boundaries of space in immersive exhibit

New media students push boundaries of space in immersive exhibit

New media students push boundaries of space in immersive exhibit
April 21
23:07 2015

Sydney Wilburn / Contributing Writer

Step through the door and enter into a world that is dark, yet full of life. The audience is bathed in ambient sounds from surrounding speakers as they are guided through a maze of projections and pieces of art, prompting them to consider the relative size of the world around them. From tiny bugs to deep space, the viewer is presented with the idea of scale in a new and unique way.

On Monday evening, the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia presented an exhibition called nanoGalactic in the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theatre located in the Music building. The exhibition showcased projects from some of UNT’s composition and new media students. Many of the projects centered on the idea of scale and its relativity.

CEMI is nestled within the College of Music’s composition program and is comprised of eight composition graduate students and director Andrew May. They aim to open the eyes of students taking classes in new media and composition by providing an opportunity for them to show their creativity outside of the required class work.

“We create an environment for students to let their imaginations go as free as possible,” composition doctoral student Tim Harenda said.

Harenda and the other members of CEMI also helped students organize nanoGalactic.

David Stout teaches intermedia performance art, as well as other classes in composition and new media. He encourages students to get involved in CEMI and showcase their talents, whether it be in composition, visual arts or performance art.

In Stout’s class, students are given a prompt to begin thinking differently about scale and how to create an immersive experience. This includes several interactive projections surfaces and use of experimental music.

“We’re given the media and it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do with it,” said new media sophomore Colton White.

In addition to the sonic and visual presentation inside the theatre, White presented a performance art piece right outside the doors of the music building. He and fellow student Tara Baker were enclosed inside of cocoons for three hours in a performance art piece titled “The Great Outdoors.”

“I wanted to get the idea of metamorphosis and transformation of self,” White said. White’s cocoon imagery was inspired by the life of the Green Lacewing insect.

The Green Lacewing also inspired a collection of video and sound sculptures collectively titled “Precious Flesh.” Stacks of televisions were placed on both sides of the room, arranged to reflect the pattern in which the Green Lacewing lays its eggs, according to the exhibition’s program notes.

Jumping from the tiny to the gargantuan is another exhibit on display at nanoGalactic: “Sol Invictus,” by composition doctoral student Seth Shafer. This exhibit displayed on several different screens high-definition images of the sun taken from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

“I’ve always been fascinated with space and deep space objects,” said Shafer. “I try to point out their alienness but, at the same time, the thing that we do understand is that they are beautiful.”

“Sol Invictus” was Shafer’s first visual installation. He usually works with composition in CEMI, experimenting with the use of algorithms as a basis of a piece, usually pulling them from mathematical processes or how the vortex of a black hole functions.

“Like any other composer here, we grow up inside the tradition,” Shafer said. “And at some point, we realize that there’s more options than what the tradition allows.”

This is the basis of the CEMI program and classes like intermedia performance art—experimenting with new types of music and art to find different ways to express ideas.

“I want to challenge what our society believes is beautiful and interesting aesthetically,” Harenda said.

Harenda wrote a piece titled “Extremophile” for the exhibition, which was performed periodically throughout the show. According to the program’s notes, it was “named for the microscopic organisms that thrive in extreme, normally inhospitable environments.”

The MEIT space itself played with the idea of scale using both visuals and sound. The space and all of the projections was collectively titled “Nexus & Portal” and according to the program notes, “engages [viewers] in an embodied and tactile interaction with notions of scale, perspective, and movement.”

One way that scale was implemented in “Nexus & Portal” was through the use of opaque, plastic walls.

The walls, in addition to winding around the building, also vary in height, making the audience feel both small and large at different points in the exhibition.

nanoGalactic was not meant to be a traditional audience-performer experience. Harenda compared it to “happenings” in the 1960s, where the audience was an essential part of a performance.

“It’s an environment that you’re welcome into,” Harenda said.

Some students attending the exhibition Monday night were surprised by nanoGalactic’s unique, immersive experience.

“I haven’t really seen many things like this before,” new media sophomore Bethany Fout said. “I liked how everything goes well together into one environment.”

Though they were being presented with an uncommon experience both musically and visually, most students had a very positive reaction to the exhibition.

“I thought it was pretty exciting and immersive,” new media student Nathaniel Thornton said. “I liked how almost every surface had something going on with it and how there were different modules.”

Allison Groves, an art major, and her friend Amanda Little, an engineering major, waited outside of the Music building where White and his partner were still encased in a cocoon. Groves and Little are White’s friends and came out to support his performance.

“I’m excited to see where it goes.” Groves said. “The only word we know is ‘cocoon!’”

Featured Image: A student’s shadow is projected on the temporary walls built for CEMI’s nanoGalactic exhibition on Monday. Photo and video by Sydney Wilburn – Contributing Writer

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