Dancing with Mother Nature

a review of "Natural Acts," an installation by Linda Herritt at Florence Lynch Gallery, June 16 - 24, 2000

One end of the gallery is occupied by a form suspended from the ceiling. At first it deconstructs as many layers of fringed plastic curtains hung in cascading concentric circles. Upon closer inspection one appreciates the intricate structure of the metal frame and wire grid used to suspend the curtains, and one suspects more is afoot.

With due inquiry, one learns the myth that the work embodies. The artist sees it as an inversion of a mesa structure, and seeks to connect her work to nature. There is, according to this myth, a hidden passage to the center of the mesa.

This recalls myths about journeys to the center of the earth, and to the diligent art viewer, behold, a passage way appears, and entry is possible through a narrow slit, as the curtains part around you. Above are more layers of fringe, not visible from without. I begin to contemplate the intricate structure from within, but suddenly the earth moves.

The earthquake is purely mechanical in origin. From without you would see a motor driven wheel connected to the curtain structure by a piston. The rotary motion of the motor is thus converted to the reciprocal motion of the earthquake. From without, from the safe distance of a gallery spectator, you would see the structure shimmy, and the purpose of the fringe as an expressive medium would be vividly set into motion.

But from within the structure, the movement of the earth was something else. I felt an urgent need to dance. It was a physical need to synchopate with the swaying structure I found myself in: A survival instinct, like learning that the fastest way across a crowded dance floor is to sway with the beat. As often as I may have observed reciprocal motion before, I never had the sensation of being within it, as I did in this installation.

Would this experience be any help in surviving an earthquake? As I contemplated the pulverizing frequencies of real tremors, I realized the pity of it is, we can't dance as fast as mother Nature nor, for that matter, as slowly.

There were yet other layers of meaning the artist had in mind, other layers of mechanical metaphor. But the piece revealed its changes at the glacial speed of nature, and I couldn't spend more time at the gallery. Yet even from this brief glimpse, from the rendering of the topology of the mesa into a mechanical structure, to the simulation of plate tectonics, it was obvious that this artist was deeply involved in art-science collaboration. This was further confirmed when she spoke about the difficulty of working with engineers, of having to learn the terminology of motor torque and lighting controls.

Herritt claimed never to have heard of ASCI. She seemed driven by the common concerns which bring so many artists to the art-sci frontier: the realization that science can provide artists both with a philosophical basis for viewing the world, and a rich pallette for expressing their visions.