Chance Operations: Random Reflections
Virginia W. Uhl
November 4, 2008

What do cell phone divination, 10,000 dice rolls and a kaleidoscopic security camera have in common? On Saturday October 25, 2008, at least, they were each elements of art pieces, projects and performances featured in Chance Operations, a one-night event at the Climate Theater in San Francisco. Intersecting digital technology with the audience participation of a Fluxus-type Happening, Chance Operations presented 14 artists in an event that incorporated interactive media, performance, visual and conceptual art. Following on a long tradition of engaging random probability in the creative process by artists ranging from John Cage and Merce Cunningham to Cory Arcangel, works in this exhibition emphasized chance in their practice, process, presentation or execution. The multiple-space venue felt like a house party with guests flowing between entertainments in many rooms.

Imaginative inquisitiveness led San Jose State grad student, Kirkman Amyx (www.kirkmanamyx.com) to spend ten hours tossing 10,000 dice. He photographed each toss and then digitally compiled them to discover their predictable visual patterns, both by the individual numbers on the die and in the aggregate. He presented black and white photographic compilations and a six-minute movie loop, which converted mathematical concepts of probability theory, predictability, chance and the law of large numbers into aesthetically beautiful visualizations.

A still from the six-minute film by Kirk Amyx

Beth Lilly’s cellphone photos divine answers for her callers.

The Oracle @ WiFi demonstrated her divinations in the next room. Beth Lilly’s performance art project is a mixture of chance and synchronicity. She has created a system using her cell phone camera to create unique images for the people who phone her on the seventh of each month to request a reading. She fosters chance in two ways, first by the unknown person who randomly connects on her cell phone, and second by the locations where she goes that day while she is purposefully working a long, geographically undesirable list of errands in order to be constantly in motion.

Divinations by Beth Lilly

Each caller has a question in mind, which they do not divulge to the Oracle. She takes three photographs where she happens to be at the time of the call and emails them to the caller who then replies, revealing the question. Lilly intuitively selects photographic content based on scenes that attract her attention, with an artist’s eye to interesting composition.

The uncanny happens upon marrying the question and photographs. Lilly says the question rarely fails to appear coincidental to the photographs, even to her eyes, although the caller attaches the real meaning.

Beth Lilly, The Oracle @ WiFi

Lilly exhibited each question and her three time and day dated color photographs on long horizontal prints (each photograph approximately five by seven inches). She began The Oracle @ WiFi project in 2006. (www.oracleatwifi.com )

Tim Thompson, aimed his camera at the Chance Operations performance by Double Vision in his installation and performance piece entitled “Captured Accidents”. Thompson, a software engineer and artist used his LoopyCam to capture and randomly process live video loops of the Double Vision dancers whose moves were choreographed by visitors’ card game playing. Turning his camera on performers and guests alike, Thompson created psychedelic images projected on a white drapery serving as a wall-sized screen. He programmed a security camera mounted to a game controller to interactively record and overlay up to four video loops in a real time pastiche of streaming images. The screen was a swirl of brightly colored forms and figures, sometimes split in a grid of four. Thompson used his controller to choose some of the effects, while the software randomly generated the rest. (http://nosuch.com)

Tim Thompson’s Captured Accidents on LoopyCam

Chance Operations was co-curated by Liena Vayzman, an instructor at San Jose State University. Selected along with five other curators, the show’s fourteen artists demonstrated a broad use of the concept of chance in media ranging from sophisticated technology to the traditional Mexican game of loteria. The fleeting event was vibrant, engaging and fun to attend.

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