Deb Todd Wheeler's exhibition at Green Street Gallery is one of those shows that stays with you, nibbling at the edges of your mind, forever asking unanswered questions. It is a show that is part whimsey, part mechanical science, and part utopian dream.
Where does one begin to write about a show that requires its gallery to post this request?
We need Volunteer energy generators!!
Central to the installation is a modified bicycle, which is hooked up to a generator and various rigs, gears and pulleys. By pedaling the bike, the rider (a gallery volunteer) activates the installation, generating light, wind, sound, and motion to fuel a series of kinetic studies on the fraught relationships between nature and technology.
"Live Experiments in Human Energy Exchange" is driven by its audience, literally. The main feature within the gallery is a bicycle, mounted along one wall, from which strings and cables and gears emanate. When someone sits on the bike and turn the pedals, the artworks springs to life. The wheels of the bicycle spin a fan covered in handmade paper that blows air along the wall opposite the bike (facing the street) and causes a paper bird to flutter in front of an opening in the wall between the rider and the bird. When the bike is at its proper speed, the bird floats perfectly in the opening. Gears from the wheels also spin an 8-track player, issuing strangely distorted music. From the back of the bike colored threads, attached to spinning arms, are strung along the ceiling to a set of butterflys mounted on a wooden structure along the floor, making their wings flutter. The bike also powers a generator whichs lights LCD panels within ant farms.
I realize as I write this how hard it is to describe the work of this show.
Separate from the bicycle is a wheel mounted on the wall, which can be spun by viewers. By spinning this wheel fast enough, one can power a video screen showing footage from a camera hidden elsewhere in the gallery.
What has been lodged in my brain ever since I say the show, and even after I returned for a second and third time, is how desperately I want to tie the bits and pieces into a larger whole. Each little unit is fascinating, bound to the larger whole through human energy, bits of string, drafts of air, or electrical generators powered by pedals and willpower. The whimsey rises above all other responses, and the work evokes a sense of fantasy without demanding a scientific mind. It is a dreamworld, utopian in its ideal of a human powered landscape, disjointed in what that world my contain, and leaves one happy to have pedaled the bike.
Green Street Gallery
"Deb Todd Wheeler: Live Experiments in Human Energy Exchange (endurable velocipede, version 3)" is on view October 31 - December 14, 2006 at Green Street Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Green Street Gallery.