Eric Forman: Selected Works 2000 — 2021
by Rahel Aima
There’s an accelerationist current that runs through much new media art today. A kind of gesture performance takes place between the work and the viewer: waving an arm perhaps, or otherwise trying to trigger a motion sensor. Interaction is primarily predicated on the frisson of speed, reaction, and connectivity. This dynamic gets subverted in Eric Forman’s multivalent practice, which spans over two decades and traverses the worlds of art, technology, architecture, and design.
Forman’s sculptures respond to people and other physical stimuli with a subtle, unhurried languor. They take their time, and make the viewer slow down too. Works index stillness instead of movement and offer multiple points of entry to explore perception, articulations of place, and the increasingly blurred lines between the virtual and the real.
Across Forman’s oeuvre, there’s an immediate pleasure to be found in playful interactions, as in the kinetic installation Radioscape (2014) and the public sculpture Heart Squared (2020), which encourages visitors to savor moving around it. We might read the latter as a commentary on new media — and the interactivity that’s its bread-and-butter — functioning as a mirror stage for a certain tech-adjacent set. But we could also simply enjoy the moment where the airy scaffolding of steel and mirrors suddenly coalesces into a giant, pixelated heart.
Contra the “everything happens so much” hypermediated swarm that many of us live in, several of his works slow technology down to the scale and speed of the body. In the mixed-reality installation Drop (2001), a wireframe visualization of a liquid is projected onto a shallow pool of water. When visitors move around the space, nothing happens. It’s only when they come to a standstill that sensors trigger both a plopping sound and a virtual droplet that falls onto the surface, causing ripple effects. Similarly in Time Flow (2008) the visitor’s body, leaning left or right, becomes the control to change the speed and temporal direction of a time-lapsed video.
A different kind of refusal is built into Dis/Connect, (2021) a chandelier-like sculpture which jams all signals underneath it. Like Auto-Surveillance Encounter (2004, 2015), it challenges the gaze of the surveillance state, but takes it a step farther to remove the visitor from the attention economy altogether, if only briefly. All of these works exemplify the way that Forman wraps, and perhaps even disguises, political interventions in something functional, beautiful, or playful.
Constant over the years is Forman’s experimentation with light. He combines it with unexpected materials to create moments of gestalt and recognition, and harnesses its therapeutic qualities to suffuse the space of his installations, and creates a kind of sculptural chiaroscuro through the alternation of light and shade.
A number of other works play with lighting design to explore the thresholds of perception and its highly contingent nature, such as the dot matrixed lightboxes of the Scale/ Scape Light Panel series, the austere light sculpture Prism Atemporal (2013), or the light-and-shadow projections of Perceptio Lucis (2009). Others like Salmon Skin Light (2013), in which the titular fish skin is tanned until it becomes a translucent filter — throughout, work to conjure up a kind of terroir almost in spite of being machinic objects. Technology is recast as not just a tool but a medium in its own right.
Another strain in Forman’s practice combines organic and industrial elements to create hybridized bodies that emphasize the imbrication of the artificial in the natural — or is it vice versa?
The chimeric Constrained Flight Structure (2008) includes both a turbine and the wings of a blue jay, and is one of the few works of his that address resource scarcity and the climate crisis. In the early work branch/ing [sic] (2000) electronic text on LED displays winds its way around a tree limb like a parasitic vine. The work speaks to the way that humans co-evolve with technology, as evidenced by higher level programming languages, whose development is as influenced by the dictates of the machine as the human need for legibility and clarity. From afar, the text is somewhat legible, if hard to read, analogous to the average person’s understanding of code. As a viewer approaches, however, sensors make the text glitch and breakdown — we might understand this as approaching machine language, not unlike painting’s spectrum of figuration to abstraction — suggesting nothing so much as a plant curling up its leaves defensively.
Here, natural and programming languages seem to reach an uneasy truce even as they reveal the often hidden technological framework that underwrites new media art. This revelation of structure finds resonance in UnBuilding (2019), which maps the subterranean cavities under Lower Manhattan. Buildings are removed like root canals, leaving only the void of basement and foundation spaces, including a gaping absence where the twin towers used to be. Of course, there are other things sequestered there too, and the work is all the more poignant for what it doesn’t show: underground parking and illegal apartments, the detritus of people’s lives, the historic African Burial Ground.
Only in recent years have the spheres of new media art and the art world proper converged, driven in large part by the market’s enthusiastic embrace. It is accompanied by a cottage industry of handwringing about technology and its unsettling effects, real and potential. Forman’s practice acknowledges these realities, but in subtle ways that don’t alienate viewers through heavy-handed didacticism or elitist obfuscation. Rather, it functions as a subversive device that sparks curiosity and a consideration of these issues for some, in the wrapper of an engaging multisensory experience. As a whole, it eschews this collective pessimism to arrive at something that blurs the lines between technology and magic, with all the sense of pleasure and uncertainty that brings. •