Halley Installation Satirizes Attempt to Limit Student Behavior Through Campus Design

Release Date: September 15, 1997 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It gives new meaning to the term “site-specific.”

Peter Halley, a New York artist of growing national reputation, has installed a temporary public-art project on the UB North Campus that satirizes the physical and ontological organization of intellectual systems.

The nine-part conceptual work, installed at eight different sites, was commissioned by the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts. It is the first in a series of temporary public-art projects planned by the gallery to engage the university community in a dialogue about contemporary art and issues.

The installation uses the iconography of cells and circuits as seen in flow-charts to comment upon the organization of the university. The charts, appropriated from various academic journals, are installed at eight public sites on the North Campus.

Each employs a specialized text referring to an information system, along with “cells” connected by conduits, plus arrows that suggest possible directions for the “flow” of information.

The charts are not accompanied by their original explanatory captions. While the original chart may have referred to a linguistic system, management model, the development of the neurotic personality or even an industrial gas pipeline, each now diagrams a way of conceptualizing and directing “flow.”

The exhibit will continue through next July.

For more than a decade, Halley’s abstract geometric paintings have mimicked modernist forms, suggesting, for instance, the unsettling similarity between most modern structures and prison cells or computer chips. The resulting installations -- often huge and arresting -- imply that culture is now irrevocably divorced from the organic; that modernism’s “geometry of mind” has come to serve as a blueprint for an entire man-made environment in which manipulation is the name of the game.

The art project pokes fun at the segmented heuristic communication charts it mimics. Each installation attempts to grab viewers attention at precisely the point at which they are being manipulated or controlled by the architecture—i.e., where they are encouraged to go, “forced” to turn, made to stop or choose a direction.

Gallery director Al Harris-F., who curated the show, said the language of the charts, familiar but not contextualized, offers a kind of absurdist poetry that encourages viewers to reflect on the parallels between bureaucratic and intellectual space even as they move through it.

The first and principle section of the installation is in the first floor Lightwell Gallery in the Center for the Arts. Called “Cartoon Network,” it is a massive, two-dimensional color geometric installation devised of Roll-a-Tex plus regular and Day-Glo acrylic and metal paint in the ground floor of the Lightwell Gallery. On either wall, perpendicular to the color piece, are the first two flow-charts in press type on the wall. They diagram “Linguistic Processing” and “Despair-Appeal.” The fourth wall depicts a silk screen collage of the “cell” motif executed in red silk-screened segments.

Another press-type installation, the cryptic, but fascinating, “External World,” in the northwest corner of the atrium, refers to the integration of “deeper” potential at critical moments and “thresholds of unfeeling.”

A third installation (“Is Response Improved?”) is found on the ground floor of the Commons on the south wall of the entrance vestibule. Site four (“Remaining Memoryless System”) is on the east wall of the main floor of the Student Union, next to the southeast entrance. Site five (“Echo of A’s Voice”) is on the second floor of Jacobs Hall at the end of the enclosed bridge.

Site six (“Controller”) is on the second floor of Norton Hall on a wall adjoining the bridge to O’Brian Hall. Site seven (“Master Slave Manipulator”) is in Capen Hall on the lower level of the Undergraduate Library next to the conversation pit.

Site eight is in Talbert Hall, lower level, north wall of the corridor adjacent to the dining area.

Site nine (“The Site of Unfeeling”) can be found on the third floor of Richmond Hall, Ellicott Complex, near seating area “Richmond 3,” a site selected perhaps because its name reflects so well the “control” issue in campus design.

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