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An art show that's a feast for the i's

April 23, 2006|David Ng | Special to The Times

New York — IF you've seen artist Jeff Wyckoff's large-scale, medical-themed creations, his newest work will strike you as downright diminutive.

Just how diminutive? Think hand-held, lightweight and hipster-approved. Think, specifically, of an omnipresent white (or black) rectangular box, with matching ear buds.

"The last thing people expect to see on an iPod screen is a bunch of red blood cells," Wyckoff says one recent Saturday afternoon. The artist has been working on a five-minute video documenting in close-up the flow of his own blood. No narration, no music. Just millions of corpuscles swimming on a glass slide. Wyckoff explains that the act of viewing cells on an iPod approximates how a scientist might see them through a microscope. "The content really plays well within the physical context of the device," he says.

When Apple unveiled video-enabled iPods last October, industry analysts heralded a new pop-culture medium. (Take "CSI" with you wherever you go!) But artists around the world also seized on the gadget as virgin creative territory. Their inventive work is generating blog buzz and has also attracted the attention of some adventurous exhibitors as well as purely commercial enterprises. Call it a Warholian union between high art and consumer technology that could have a significant effect on the art world. Not to mention meticulously ordered playlists everywhere."The iPod lets you experience a work of art individually," says Wyckoff. "You can pick it up and hold it. In a way, it makes a video piece feel more like a photograph."

Wyckoff's blood-cell video, titled "Blood Lust," is on display at "PodART II," an exhibition of 22 new iPod works at the Fine Art in Space gallery in Queens. The show, kicking off this weekend, is the sequel to the first "PodART" exhibition, which opened in December and, as far as organizers can tell, was the first of its sort anywhere. Not shabby for an artistic medium barely 7 months old.


Buying into it

HANGING on the gallery walls, the iPods act as postage-stamp windows into pure imagination, and collectors willing to shell out $500 or more can take home the view and the window. Each iPod is a limited-edition item with the artist's name engraved on the back. (Apple donated the devices, which come in black and are sans corporate logo.)

Gallery prices aside, iPod art is usually an affordable and simple affair. Cash-strapped artists can use off-the-shelf digital cameras because the iPod's minute screen (3 square inches) is forgiving of blur and grain. Once the footage has been edited and mixed in a program such as Final Cut Pro, the video is converted to the MP4 format, which is the nonproprietary codec Apple has designated for the iPod. Users then upload the file to the device using the free iTunes software.

For iPod artists, watching viewers experience their completed work has itself become a part of the experience. Visitors accustomed to drifting whimsically among gallery installations suddenly don't have as much freedom. "The fact that you're tethered to it with ear buds almost forces you to watch it, or at least it holds people longer," says Adam Stennett, an artist who specializes in disturbing pieces in various media involving mice and rats. "You're sort of at my mercy a little more than you'd normally be."

Stennett finds the iPod's size to be a welcome challenge to creativity. "I like playing with scale, and the iPod is all about smallness," he says. For one of his rodent-themed videos, Stennett built a miniaturized version of Brooklyn's Prospect Park and unleashed live rodents in it. He says watching the video on an iPod shrinks the toyland set even more while further exaggerating the rodents' Godzilla stature.

Other artists have found inspiration in the iPod's audio idiosyncrasies. "With the movies, the image came first and then sound was added," says artist Nelson Loskamp. "In the iPod, sound came first, so there's a different orientation." Loskamp's performance art pieces involve tying people up S&M style and giving them haircuts. He filmed one such performance for the iPod and discovered that the stereophonic intimacy of the device nicely emulated the experience of sitting in the demonic barber's chair.

"The idea is that the sound of the clippers goes around your head and comes from different angles," he explains. "I used the same three sounds over again, arranging them in different patterns. It was like recording a rock song."

Loskamp notes that most iPod art is indeed song-length, usually no longer than 10 minutes. "You have to remember that the viewer has his finger on the forward button," he says. "So you don't have much time to get your point -- or nonpoint -- across."


A passing fancy?

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