Trash Talk: A Review of The Appearance Machine by Willy Le Maitre and Eric Rosenzveig.
For nearly ten years, trash has been the focus of a massive project, an audiovisual work called The Appearance Machine, by artists Willy Le Maitre & Eric Rosenzveig. This is a project that deals firsthand with an overabundance of material that won't go away, and about seeing the beautiful possibilities of trash, giving the act of recycling a new context. The result is conflicting, producing in the viewer a sense of alienation and comfort, disbelief and wonder.
The once aimless material waste becomes the nexus of a unique art project that celebrates waste and the odd notion of an enjoyable wasteland through a complex means of processing and image making. The Appearance Machine's permanent residence is in New York City, the unofficial center of the detritus crisis as home of the largest landfill in the world. The machine itself is housed in a warehouse space that doubles as a factory or lab for audiovisual 'performances' set to an orchestra of digitally produced sound.
The Appearance Machine is a production mill of sorts, a system that generates non-narrative audiovisual by-products, relying on a steady stream of incoming refuge to sustain itself. Trash enters a conveyor belt-like system where objects are photographed in a manner not unlike the way a photographer might capture the image of a fashion model. Artificial wind, mechanical impulses, and vibration work in concert to animate the objects to provide them with context, dimension and, to some degree, personality. Multiple camera angles ensure the same quality of perspective and dimension to produce audiovisual works of art in increments that last for about ten or fifteen minutes.
The final video output is best understood as the combined results of data responding to other data. Captured images react to machine activity where objects are analytically sorted by type and compatibility. Sound is formed in real time through data analysis of the video imagery. In other words, the accompanying sound is produced by a computer program that reacts to object movement. Through this data mining and analysis, the trash objects construct music that appropriately complements the objects' movement and character. Sound and image are then joined and transmitted through computer translation and made available online for the general public.
Going green, a now popular concept that has surfaced with widespread assuredness, convinces the average person that through simple shifts in practice, we can transform our homes, schools, and environment. While useful tips for change promote awareness of this global cause through energy conservation, reducing material waste, and recycling matter, there are also mediated ways of addressing our environment, which can activate a different attitude toward the overwhelming problem of trash. By channelling waste through digital form, detritus becomes raw material for art.
Trash and found objects have been the subjects of art since Marcel Duchamp decided to wow his gallery audience with found objects, placing them in unexpected contexts and giving them a weight they hadn?t had but ultimately deserved. Le Maitre and Rosenzweig's Appearance Machine equally provides audiences with new ways of experiencing once banal objects, and re purposes refuse in a manner that is in keeping with the crux of environmentalism.
Though immaterial, this project allows trash to embody a new form. Refuse is recycled into representations of matter that have character and produce visually stunning, energetic movements and sounds that stimulate the senses and demonstrate recognisable patterns that allude to narrative and metaphor. Some of the sounds are akin to the theramin-produced soundtracks of 1950s science fiction films, while the visual imagery produces non-descript shape and colour. Both are what one might expect to encounter on another planet.
The Appearance Machine works on many levels. It draws attention to an environmental concern over an overabundance of material waste and deals with it by providing an outlet for it through technological means. In doing so, audiences are confronted with trash in a manner that is pleasantly accessible, mediated through the representation of imagery and sound. This is a form we collectively understand.
While this project does not aim to resolve environmental problems, it makes a motion toward alleviating concerns by creating a purpose or function for refuse, making the most of its extended afterlife through its reuse, while placing it back into the public realm in its new form. This cinematic performance does more than shed the look and feel of its raw form. It engages the viewer/listener in an enjoyably complex fusion of image and sound.