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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.