Projected outside the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s first floor gallery, “Fly to Mars” serves as an introduction to Jennifer Steinkamp’s interest in the digital sublime. In the computer-generated animation, a tree transitions through all four seasons as its branches undulate. The movement of the branches is unnatural, spreading and recoiling in a fashion that reveals the mechanical underpinnings of the artist’s process. The tree’s seeming other-worldliness is highlighted by the work’s title, “Fly to Mars.” The work does not try to mimic the movements of a wind-blown tree. Instead, its attempt to uproot and fly to Mars recognizes the promise of new technology to transcend the physical. However, the tree never takes flight, also acknowledging the limits of technology to satisfy certain expectations.
“Moth” a second and larger installation by the artist also shares “Fly to Mars’s” technical sophistication, but it creates a more immersive environment. On each of the first floor gallery’s four walls, a computer-generated animation of fabric is projected. The piece takes its name from a Virginia Woolf essay, which describes the final moments of a moth’s life. In the essay, the moth is trapped inside a window pane, and the placement of the projections also creates this feeling of enclosure. Steinkamp was inspired to create “Moth” after seeing the FWM’s curator, Kippy Stroud, kill the insect that poses such a danger to fabric.
The fabric animations use neck tie patterns, giving the work a human presence. Each of these pieces of fabric is filled with moth holes, suggesting human fragility and mortality. In three of the animations, the fabric looks like it is being blown in the wind. This push from an outside force and the fabric’s vulnerability, like the moth in Virgina Woolf’s essay, can be seen as a metaphor for life.
The focal point of the installation is the fourth projection. In this animation, the fabric moves in and out to mimic breath. This movement creates an empathy in the viewer for the body and articulates the artist’s ideas about death and mortality most clearly.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum has a rich history of textiles, making Jennifer Steinkamp’s computer generated animations seem right at home. The Death of the Moth is on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum until late spring.