HEAVY LIFTING ‘PED’ OFFERS A MIND AND BODY WORKOUT

The Buffalo News

Date: Friday, June 8, 2001
Section: GUSTO
Edition: FINAL
Page: G17

By: BY BRUCE ADAMS – News Contributing Reviewer

Illustration: “PED,” by Millie Chen, Andrew Johnson and Paul Vanouse, is an interactive work in which visitors ride 1950s-style bicycles outfitted with audio-cassette players along any of 10 color-coded campus courses. As you follow the routes, narrated “lectures” play from tiny mounted speakers. The cassettes run on power generated by pedaling. Stop, and the art stops. It doesn’t get more interactive than that.

 

Great art exercises the mind. But “PED,” the site-specific collaborative project at the University at Buffalo Art Gallery, might be the first art work to do as much for the hips and thighs.

“PED” is an interactive work in which visitors ride 1950s-style bicycles outfitted with audio-cassette players along any of 10 color-coded campus courses. As you follow the routes, narrated “lectures” play from tiny mounted speakers. The cassettes run on power generated by pedaling. Stop, and the art stops. It doesn’t get more interactive than that.

The artists, Millie Chen, Andrew Johnson and Paul Vanouse, are UB faculty members whose stated purpose is to play with “pedagogical issues” and “the relationship between the university and the greater Buffalo community.” However, the topics addressed actually are more diverse, from suburban sprawl to racism, segregation and a myriad of other sociopolitical and environmental issues. The campus serves as a metaphorical microcosm of suburban life.

In the gallery itself, an innocuous floor installation consisting of fragmented sections from an oversized campus map ostensibly serves as a warm-up and orientation course. Smaller maps plot bike routes that bear names like “Natural,” “Safe,” “Controlled” and “Civilized.” To begin, just sign a waiver, grab a bike, and select a course. The helpful attendant pops in a cassette, and you’re off.

For those who prefer their art on walls and pedestals, all this may require some adjustment. Though difficult to categorize, “PED” broadly corresponds to what art historian Rosalind Krauss has termed “marked sites,” a concept dating from the early 1970s in which outdoor sculpture is defined as “what is in the landscape, that is not the landscape.”

With “PED,” Krauss’ notion has been merged with sound art, linking it to Dada, Fluxus and contemporary artists like Laurie Anderson and Chris Apology. The narrated passages, from sources as diverse as Talking Heads’ song lyrics and Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” are in turn amusing, informative, ironic and surreal.

“Natural,” for instance, begins with 1970s disco music, lurches into a measured reading of UB promotional material, then on to a treatise on landscape architecture. Next comes environmental history (UB was once swamp land and habitat to diverse wildlife), then beat poetry and finally erotic prose from bicycle to the rider. All the while the viewer passes quite literally through time and space.

One quibble: the artists might have narrowed the scope some, thereby reducing sensory overload. It was somewhat disconcerting to try to concentrate on the material while avoiding people, traffic, parked vans and signposts. Lose yourself in the poetry, and you may literally get lost. (I frequently drifted off the somewhat confusing trails.)

But maybe that’s the intent. The primary foil in all this is suburbia itself, not exactly a new concept. What makes it fresh here is the means of delivery. Traversing the campus by bike positions the viewer close to the asphalt and road kill, enhancing the poignancy of cultural and environmental loss.

“PED” challenges the public while confronting provocative issues in an enjoyable manner. In the process, both mind and body receive a worthwhile workout.
PED
WHAT: Collaborative project by Millie Chen, Andrew Johnson and Paul Vanouse
WHEN: Through June 29
WHERE: University at Buffalo Art Gallery, Center for the Arts, North Campus
ADMISSION: Free
INFO: 646-6912

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