publication of the International Sculpture Center
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Gallery
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An Alternative Reality, 2003. Installation view.
For those inclined
to dicker about whether or not a gallery installation is sculpture, Bill
Klailas Grotto: An Alternative Reality would be a source for energetic
discussion. This digital, interactive installation impressively constructs
the psychological reality of a caveor at least our notion of a cave.
It has the entrance and the sound of a cave, the darkness and the feeling
of a passage to subterranean territory. But, other than the space itself,
and the projected images of geological formations, there is no three-dimensional
object identifiable as sculpture. That it is found in a traditional, comprehensive
museum may amplify the is-it-sculpture-or-not debate.
Grotto is accessed
by a curving, dark gray entranceway. The inner chamber, largely created
by technology, is activated and altered as the viewer crosses the caves
floor, a pressure-sensitive grid of projected images of rocks and sediment,
enhanced by the sound of rippling water and the movement of dim flickering
light. Projected images on the walls of stalactites and stalagmites flesh
out the virtual reality experience. It is simple but seductive: one stands,
moves, and reconsiders the impact of ones own movement, often in
concert with others. Our physicality is traced in the dark to the sound
of water. Our entrance and our exit shadow us.
Grotto is the product of three computers, the aforementioned pressure-sensitive
floor, and modified video game software that synchronizes layered scenes
and projected graphic displays. In the floor, these displays include the
rippling retreat of water across rocks. The viewers movement also
prompts light to shimmer and reflect off the projected images of the stalactites
and stalagmites. Overall, the atmosphere is dark but gilded in a glow
of topaz light, and the soft sound of splashing water deepens the experience.
Klaila has constructed
an intellectually simple, but provocative environment that prompts viewers,
even those with technological genes, to assess how this virtual cave exists
in a fine arts museum. And, Grotto does so with great confidence. Its
electronic underpinnings, recognizable to those who have grown up with
technology, also compel the viewer to think about the conceptual make-up
of a cave. What does a cave look like, feel like, smell like, and sound
While Grotto may
be a one-liner in one sense, it is also complex. It does not seriously
tempt us to believe it is a cave. Rather, Grotto allows us to physically
and intellectually explore the idea of a cave. Certainly viewers understand
that they not in a dank underground space, yet Grotto is associative and
suggestive, extending reality in a way that causes us to explore the psychological
construction of cave. An unmistakable sense of subterranean
space existspassage, descent, darkness, and humiditythe essence
of a cave. Plato and his cave filter into our consciousness. Unexpectedly,
this electronically generated environment pushes us a step beyond ourselves,
a pace beyond our routine patterns.
Grotto is an operatic
experience in its synthesis of visual, audio, and physical provocation.
However, its pursuit of an environmental experience also ties it to Minimalism.
The coordinates of time, light, form, and space are all critical in Klailas
work. Although the environment is decidedly non-Minimalist, Klailas
underlying strategy to create a sensory experience is not so many steps
removed from Dan Flavins fluorescent-lit environments or Walter
de Maria's Lightning Field. Ultimately, we are the protagonists in Grotto's