Rick Silva’s large screen bisects the large space of Gallery 1 at Oregon Contemporary. Projected on the screen is the 25-minute loop of PEAKING which ends and begins simply, the title and the artist’s name in thin linear font that’s reminiscent of (now vintage) plotter printouts. It’s more likely that a viewer will not arrive during this short transition from end to beginning, and instead will walk into a dark gallery space that seems to extend into the large screen. The virtual space of the large projection mimics the gallery space with its reflective floor and obscure overhead lighting. In the center of this virtual window, rotating a meter above the virtual floor, are digital renderings of mountain peaks. The intensity and draw of this first peek (yes, pun intended) is largely dependent upon which part of the loop one has apprehended.
The recent work of artist Rick Silva (Eugene, OR) translates the natural world into a visual language of technology. In this process, Silva opens a dialogue between conceptions presented in screen-based virtuality and our diminishing relationship with the physically available natural world. Western Fronts (2018), shown earlier this year at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, combined aerial drone footage of recently reduced National Monuments in western states (Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears, Gold Butte, and Cascade-Siskiyou) with a (fictional) virtual X-ray. The digital overlay onto the moving drone footage seemingly scans the landscape for the buried treasure of natural resources. Paired with a grating metallic soundtrack, Western Fronts vividly communicates the imminent danger these natural sites face as resource demand outweighs concerns for environmental preservation. PEAKING similarly brings local natural features into the focal point of the gallery space, reminding viewers of the unique topography of the Pacific Northwest.
The topographically defined mountain tops of PEAKING rotate and change at gradually increasing rates. If one begins near the slow end of the cycle (red text in the lower left states “10 Peaks” or green “100 Peaks”), there’s time to get comfy in the large plush beanbags on the floor and time to ponder the diagonal laser that seems to permeate, or reflect from, or sometimes, be split by the rendered mountain surface. Hold onto that line. As the speed increases, blue 1000, yellow 100,000, the tempo of the accompanying sound, a drone of flexing notes, also increases.
In our email exchange, Silva revealed that the audio was “very difficult…a challenge to make a sound that could scale from 10bpms to above 1000 bpms and still fit the tone of the work.” And yes, the projection continues to accelerate, matched by the audio. White. 1,000,000. The terraced surfaces on the screen move so fast that they morph into skin. And it feels as if those million permutations of the peak are brushing my skin, I itch, I can’t sit still, I’m blinking, fidgeting, and I get up. I’ve peaked.
“PEAKING” curator Ashley Stull Meyers relates these visualizations to the mapping of data. In this historical moment we are very familiar with the power of data images in the palm of our hand: myriad opinion polls, census counts, and stories of economic inflation. But there is no hard data here: Silva describes the peaks as both poetic versions of familiar topography and the results of a 3-D animation program. Instead, it’s the scale, pace, and intelligent installation of PEAKING that gives the work its captivating character. If the peaks appeared on a small intimate screen, meant to be seen at close range by one or two viewers, the power of the work to overwhelm would be lost. In a similar way, the dimensions of the screen, the scale, centrality, and singularity of the modeled images assert the intention, not to foster dialogue or disclose truth, rather to engross and engulf.
There’s a dislocation, a captive quality to seeing mountain peaks in this way. These are innately geomorphic forms held within the screen and the space of the gallery. It could be read as confinement, but I think it’s more about reverence. Taken in the larger context with Silva’s other projects, PEAKING uses animation to translate the power of the natural world into digital experience for viewers in the information age, raising heartrates via frames per second and beats per minute.
Rick Silva, PEAKING, curated by Ashley Stull Meyers, 22 April – 26 June 2022 at Oregon Contemporary, 8371 N Interstate Avenue. Oregon Contemporary is open Friday through Sunday from Noon to 5:00 pm and, during the summer, on Wednesdays from 3:00-7:00 pm.