David Bowen uses the phrase “DIY” to describe his art — he likes to show how things are made, all the way down to their guts. Bowen’s kinetic sculptures are a blend of the natural and man-made world, and his installations are made of wires, motors, programmable micro controllers, flies, pea plants, and weeds, or as he says, “intersections between natural and mechanical situations.”
Bowen has installed three sculptures, in a show titled drift, at Redux as part of the inaugural Receiver Fest, a time-based media festival. “Hopefully, it will create something different each time the viewer experiences the art,” he says. In “Tele-Present Wind,” the floor is covered with a small “field” of hip-high tansey stalks, a weed that resembles Queen Anne’s Lace. The stalks grow in clusters near Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn., where Bowen is an assistant professor of sculpture. Instead of a glass vase, these dried stalks are held by a “tilting device” that is connected to an “accelerometer” installed outdoors all the way back on the windy shores of Minnesota. When the wind blows, it causes the stalk outside to sway, alerting the accelerometer, and then transmitting the signal in real-time to the stalks at Redux. As the stalks move back and forth intermittently, it sounds like rain coming down on a tin roof. “It’s mesmerizing, like you’re looking at a fire,” Redux Director Karen Ann Meyers says. Bowen likes that there is always the chance of a windless day, and embraces the imperfections of his machines.
Bowen chose houseflies to explore flight patterns in “Fly Lights” because he says they elicit the least amount of sympathy from the viewer. On hundred flies inside a mechanical sphere hanging at eye level zoom around, and break the beam of LED lights inside the sphere. These movements trigger a light to flash onto the wall of the gallery, confronting the viewer as they come in the door. Bowen admits it’s kind of obnoxious, and laughs as he discusses hammering out the details of what to do with the fly poop and how to properly care for the flies during the duration of the exhibit. The system will slow down as the flies die off and the flashes of light will dim.
“Growth Rendering Device” documents the growth of a pea plant over the course of its two-month lifespan. Bowen mounted an old-school HP inkjet printer on the wall with a 30-foot scroll showing the plant’s growth at 24-hour intervals. At a previous installation, a curator called Bowen to tell him that the pea plant was dying and he wanted to know what to do. Bowen told the curator not to do anything. “It’s not a perfect drawing,” he said. “The flaws are interesting.” Bowen sees his role as an artist to set up situations and respond to them. The Redux installation will not include an actual pea plant.
drift seems to be too simplistic a title for Bowen’s installations. As the lights go down at Redux, Bowen’s flies and stalks and pea plant printer will still continue to flash, sway, and grow. Harnessing the northern winds, turning houseflies into disco light generators, and putting a pea plant on stage are bold moves. Bowen is giving the wind, the flies, and the pea plant a voice. This is what the wind feels and sounds like a thousand miles away — sometimes it’s mesmerizing, sometimes it’s a little obnoxious, and sometimes there’s nothing there.