News / Arts & Entertainment

Exhibit Explores Impact of Technology on Humanity

Exhibit Explores Impact of Technology on Humanityi
X
June 12, 2014 6:10 PM
What do Santa Claus, the Bride of Frankenstein, and drones have in common? Plenty, it turns out, as VOA reporter Julie Taboh discovered at a new exhibit at a major art museum in Baltimore, Maryland. The exhibition examines the impact technology has had on our lives as interpreted by artists, futurists and inventors.
In a room glowing brightly from hundreds of twinkling LED light bulbs, the sound of Christmas carols - sung in Hindi and Punjabi - fill the air, as a misshapen Santa Claus stands atop a flying saucer and a huge spaceship with a carousel on top hovers nearby.

This unusual holiday scene by artist Kenny Irwin Jr. -- a practicing Muslim -- is a bold statement about the commercialization of Christmas in which traditional holiday objects like reindeer and nutcrackers have been transformed from the familiar to the bizarre.

The unusual display is part of a new exhibit called "Human, Soul & Machine: The Coming Singularity!" at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, which examines the impact of technology on human life as told through the eyes of more than 40 artists, futurists and inventors.  
 
  • "Have Yourself a Happy Little Robotmas" by Kenny Irwin Jr. at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • Kenny Irwin Jr.'s "Have Yourself a Happy Little Robotmas" installation at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • Dean Millien's "Gorilla" at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • "Piano Family" by Allen Christian at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • "The Final Battle" by Fred J. Carter at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • "Gaia" by Alex Grey at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • "The Bride of Frankenstein" by Adam Kurtzman at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • Fixed Ajax #2 by Allen Christian at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • A wall of circuit boards at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
  • O.L. Samuel's "Godzilla" at the "Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Julie Taboh/VOA)

Museum founder and director Rebecca Hoffberger is also the curator of the exhibit. Every year she picks a serious theme for a major exhibit to get people thinking. This year, it's about the blessing and the dangers of technology.

"Because,” she said, “technology is becoming increasingly powerful globally at rates never before witnessed.”

Technology's impact

The exhibit begins with an exploration of what Hoffberger believes is the birth of technology: the discovery of fire.

“Fire begins our capacity to manipulate our environment -- the earth -- that was a gift to all of us,” she said. 

That gift was a two-edged sword, she added. While it offered wonderful benefits, like heat and light, "what fire unleashed is really the whole chemical world; the ability to smelt metals and make swords, guns, tanks, and in the blink of an eye, the atomic bomb.” 

Warfare

In light of that consideration, a whole section of the exhibit is devoted to warfare, from a single, powerful image of the atomic bomb, to a series of drawings by artist Rigo 23 that explore the ethics of drone usage.

There’s even a two-meter-tall "Godzilla," inspired by the original mythical figure that was first created in response to the devastating effects of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Numerous images and signs in strategic areas of the museum remind visitors of the cost of war. 

Mother earth

Other images in the exhibition explore the destruction of the environment, as captured in a painting called "Gaia" by artist Alex Grey.

"On one-half of the tree of life is earth, idyllic in harmony with human kind; we’re vegetarians, we’re not in any way harming nature.  But on the other, it’s what we’ve done to manipulate nature,” Hoffberger said.

And the presence of a life-size gorilla covered with aluminum sends a powerful message about the threatened existence of this great ape species and the plundering of ancient forests for the popular metal.

“Aluminum, because it was so difficult to refine for a period of humanity’s time, was much more valuable than gold,” said Hoffberger. “But at the same time, the moment they found a way to refine it, aluminum became the stuff we wrap around a hot dog and throw away in the trash.”  

Human Soul

Another work of art by Alex Grey is his “Sacred Mirrors” series of paintings, which artfully explores the connection between body and soul.

Adam Kurtzman’s full-size “The Bride of Frankenstein” represents mankind’s historic fascination with control over life and death.

Sculptor Allen Christian, who has two works in the exhibit, is nostalgic for the days when handmade tools and objects were valued.  His robot, “Ajax,” is made from items like railroad spikes that once held importance but have since been discarded.

“These things are imbued with energy from the people that made them, designed them, used them,” he said. “It’s about trying to put them back together to give it a different life.”

His “Piano Family” -- made out of spare piano parts -- represents a bygone era when things now made by machine were crafted by hand.

“Having a piano where the family would be around it,” he said, “was about being together and this was a forum where we bonded,” he said. “There was something very powerful about music that I think was lost when recordings came out when you didn’t have to participate.”
 
Good technology

There are displays in the exhibition representing the positive side of technology; a video of one of Henry Ford’s cars for example, and a wooden replica of the Wright brothers’ airplane. But the loss of our humanity permeates the show.

One of the most powerful is Fred Carter's series of giant wooden carvings. One of them, titled “The Final Battle,” depicts on one side the face of an anguished human and on the other, his transformation into a robot. 

The piece is made out of a single piece of wood, and warns of the consequences of the industrial manipulation of nature.

“Fred was so worried that humanity was going to lose its humanity,” said Hoffberger.  “And he shows here on the robot side, the bits of copper wire coming out of us that we’re no longer quite human.”

Purpose

“With every exhibition, I try to prepare something absolutely delicious for a three-year-old to eat in terms of eye candy and flashing lights,” said Hoffberger, but she also wanted something “that a Nobel Prize winner can love and learn from.” 

On this day a group of visiting students from a nearby school seemed transfixed by the blend of art, science, humor and imagination.

Victoria Greenia, 12, said she felt the exhibition “shows how technology has helped us and yet has destroyed our environment in a way.” 

Angus Gatlin, 11, was mesmerized by Grey’s "Gaia."

“I liked this one in specific because I thought it was really powerful…if you notice all the animals are dying…I think the whole message is, ‘Watch what you’re doing,’” he said. 

While many of the displays in the exhibition are playful, the serious question at the heart of it all, is will we use our ever-evolving technology for positive or negative purposes?

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: 1worldnow from: Earth
June 17, 2014 8:17 AM
A moment in history, not so far in the past: Just at the hint that Family Guy was going to show an image of the Prophet Muhammed, there were demonstrations and riots, and it hadn't even been shown! But this is just fabulous that a Muslim wishes to insult Christmas, gleefully. Really? Kenny had to choose Christmas to make this kind of point, really? OK fellow Christians, time to riot, loot, maim, and just have a darn good time doing it! Let's flip over some cars, burn our buildings, and violently attack anyone we think may not be Christian! Yahoo! Oh wait, we (Christians) seem to exhibit much more decency and respect for others opinions. My bad. Like Laura Ingram said about the Dixie Chicks in England bashing Bush, "Shut up and sing!" Artists create art, why can't you just do that?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.