San Francisco

Shih Chieh Huang at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The flickering, multicolored lights of Shih Chieh Huang’s installation Synthetic Seduction, now on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, reminds me of the cellular and molecular models found in biology classrooms. When I was a student, one of the ways in which I learned about organic forms was by placing mitochondria, lysosomes, and nuclei in their correct locations in these models. Huang also re-creates life with synthetic, mundane materials, but she does so with much more technical and mechanical sophistication. While Huang’s forms may not overtly mimic reality, his work serves as an interpretation of structures operating in concert.

Shih Chieh Huang. Synthetic Seduction, 2013; installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo: Dorothy Santos

Synthetic Seduction primarily appeals to our retinal senses and our fascination with technology’s capacity to mimic life. As one enters the dark room of Seduction, glowing lights reveal bags attached to a mechanism that metaphorically blows life into the structures. Visible wires and synthetic materials such as audio cables, water bottles, and plastic bags make up an elegant man-made ecosystem that pulsates, gyrates, and illuminates a way of modeling life through new media. Seeing the soldered components, the viewer is well aware that the structures can easily be broken or dismantled; though the work is robotic and animatronic, it conveys fragility. Huang’s work performs as if it is a representation or prototype of an organism that belongs within our environment. Although this particular installation is not interactive in terms of the viewer directly affecting the work, the placement of the body in space affords the viewer different interactions with the piece. The most compelling aspect of the work entails the soft, muted colors of each sculpture turning my notebook pages to different hues of red, green, blue, and violet. Bottles strategically hung from the ceiling and around the sculptural works contain glowing neon yellow liquid. Watching people walk in and out of the space, it was relatively easy to observe visitors congregating in circles as if to bask in the luminescence. The lights attract while the darkness repels.

Shih Chieh Huang. Synthetic Seduction, 2013; installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo: Dorothy Santos

Standing in the darkened room, it is apparent that something is inherently unlike us, which both fascinates and has the capacity to repel. The playful, bioluminescent display appeals to the senses. Yet the wires and inexpensive materials, including LED lights and highlighter markers, anchoring the largest piece in the installation remind the viewer that this is a simulated environment. Huang creates tension and dissonance and makes certain we know this is not meant to be realistic in any way. Huang shows that simulating an organism is more complicated than just putting pieces together. Seduction and enticement of the eye through technology become ways for the viewer to examine how technology can make attempts at mimicry, but understanding our relationships with life-forms must go far beyond the visual.

Shih Chieh Huang. Synthetic Seduction, 2013; installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo: Dorothy Santos

Synthetic Seduction is on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through July 7, 2013.

Dorothy Santos is arts editor and curator of Asterisk SF Magazine + and Gallery and a blogger for ZERO1: Arts and Technology Network and Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.

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