We Have the Technology – ‘SonicSENSE’ invites the viewer to play with its art

'SONICSENSE TOUCHSENSE,' (detail) BARNEY HAYNES AND JENNIFER PARKER
‘SONICSENSE TOUCHSENSE,’ (detail) BARNEY HAYNES AND JENNIFER PARKER

Forget the signs at the museum telling you not to touch the art. When “SonicSENSE” sets up its exhibition for this coming week’s First Thursday Forum Lounge at Contemporary Arts Forum, it wants interaction. Play away — who knows what will happen.

One piece features a small corridor made out of piezo speaker film, a very thin, shiny metal paper. As the viewer walks through this narrow space, the displaced air ruffles the fabric, producing a ghostly sound between a rumble and a breath. Spooky, but intriguing.

Another work, “blowTANK,” lets the person put their own portrait onto a monitor, but only after blowing away the pixels of the person who had been there before, a poetic and humorous way of demonstrating how we have all become part of the machine.

“SonicSENSE” consists of two Bay Area artists: Barney Haynes and Jennifer Parker. Haynes works as an artist and professor at California College of the Arts, and Parker is a sculptor and professor at UC Santa Cruz. The opportunity to work together after a long professional friendship became “SonicSENSE.”

Their art relies on data, either drawn from online sources — government weather sites are popular — or aspects of the museum-goer, such as breath, humidity, weight, pulse and movement.

“As artists, we really think of data as a material to make art from,” she says. “Just like you’d use paint or wood. It’s just another material in our tool bag.”

Parker and Haynes don’t program, she says, but they do know who to work with to achieve results. She compares the two of them as producers and directors employing everybody to make a movie.

“Sometimes it’s one goal and sometimes it’s many goals,” she says. “The end goal is always to figure out something that everyone can contribute to. We’re having conversations with each other. I don’t think we know what any project will be until it’s almost done. It’s unknown territory sometimes.”

The exhibit at the forum amalgamates work from two current shows, one at UCSB’s College of Creative Studies and the other at The Lab in San Francisco. The UCSB show was spawned from a physics and art major that Parker met in a sculpture class, and their collaboration explored the idea of what a meeting of the two disciplines would produce. The answer was a fascinating double pendulum, making sound data visible.

Many of the show’s pieces get disassembled after their exhibit, with handy electronics being repurposed for newer works. Can, then, they still be counted as sculptures?

“It’s curious that we’re still asking if it’s art,” Parker says. “It’s an experience, and someone is saying something with the material. That’s what matters.”

Art doesn’t have to live forever, she adds. In fact, most of it doesn’t even happen on purpose.

“I would describe us as all accident,” she says. “I’m not saying we’re not in control, but we are prototyping in spaces, experimenting in public. They happen when we install it and see them being used.”

‘SONICSENSE’
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo (upstairs)
Cost: Free
Information: (805) 966-5373, www.sbcaf.org, www.artsites.ucsc.edu/SonicSense

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