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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani 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.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.