Pixelville is the collaborative project of the sculptor Nivi Alroy and new media artist Shirley Shor. As Israeli women close in age, Alroy and Shor share many experiences and observations, but discovered their common aesthetic and social purpose only recently, once both had relocated to New York.
The title, Pixelville, derives in part from the responsivity of the concept to the Dumbo Arts Center exhibition gallery, a century-old space and part of a still-older complex known as “Gairville.” As with so many buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn reclaimed by and for artists, the historic resonance of the DAC space evokes, and provokes, artists’ Janus-headed sensitivity to the layering of past, present, and future in the urban context. In the case of Alroy and Shor – daughters of a nation at once barely older than they and older than most other nations – this compression of time symptomatizes the anomalous dynamics of our era, the digital, or at least digitized, world that compresses time and space alike, and does so as much through the reordering of experience as through the mere reduction of volume or duration.
We have access to the past as never before, and the future – for better or worse – seems to be similarly immediate. Does the present, then, still exist? Is there a place where the actual moment maintains? Pixelville manifests what is left of the present, a chaotic and fluctuating ambience in which the remnants of civilization, still functional or not, struggle to cohere. “Our envisioned city,” writes Alroy, “is in a constant state of motion” – not the constant, traditional state of motion that pulses through all cities, but a relatively new, and increasing, state of flux that refigures cities overall and ultimately re-defines their function(s).
Working separately, but with knowledge of the other's doing, the artists have planted computer-driven animation projections inside a physical installation. The two components simultaneously cover and erupt out of each other, creating a dialogue across the borders of the contents, between three-dimensional space and virtual, four-dimensional space. The heart of Pixelville is a round white sandbox on which Shor casts a digitally generated image that mimics map-like shapes in a constant state of flux. According to Shor this “virtual map” is “generated in real-time by software code and merges with the physical sculpted surface, creating a possible changeable topography,” here amplified by the sculptural structure surrounding it. Shor describes the seething conceptual landscape of her sandbox as “a synthesis between the code and the territory” and notes that such a conflation of time and space, signifier and signified, “generates unique moments rather than being a product of the past or a representation of a fixed geographical taxonomy…”
Radiating from this electronic “molten core” are trails of sculptural forms, invented and fabricated by Alroy. Evocative of both (floral and viral) organic and architectural entities, these trails reach toward the walls of the space like roots, spores, or even rays of sunlight. In their urge toward the edge, these radiances form their own clusters and gaps, intersections and “no-man’s lands,” thus determining an irregular, natural-seeming pattern of growth and metamorphosis, center and periphery, city and suburb. Closer to the walls, the three-dimensional forms merge with two-dimensional and (more of Shor’s) four-dimensional imagery, creating synergy and conflict between time and space, substance and illusion, real and ideal.
This configuration considers the urban experience as sourced in an ordered, predetermined arrangement of spaces and structures, a “machine for living” (to employ and amplify Le Corbusier’s term) that, paradoxically, serves as the armature for vibrant, asymmetric settlement, a teeming cascade of commingled buildings hurtling through barriers with apparently single-minded purpose, modified by the fluid conditions of virtual projection. According to Alroy and Shor, even the best-intentioned and seemingly most successful city planning, from Baron Haussmann’s (not to mention Le Corbusier’s) for Paris, to American Levittowns to Lord Geddes’ provocative arrangement of a nascent Tel Aviv, are subject, perhaps inevitably, to disruptions and mutations that sully, even sabotage, the structure and purpose of the original designs.
Nivi Alroy and Shirley Shor have imagined, and imaged, the city as the site of a continuous earthquake, a locus for precisely the kind of energy that threatens to blow apart loci. The city, in their view, may be a human product but it is not an artificial one, and its response over time to the accumulating needs of a changing, growing population is less logical than biological. In Pixelville, Alroy and Shor show “city planning” to be an oxymoron – both an intoxicating ideal and a thrilling reality.
- Peter Frank, 2009