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Paranormal Pattern Recognition at 808

Using video, Phantom reveals how we decipher abstractions

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In the slide show above, artists Paul Woodrow and Alan Dunning talk about their exhibition Phantom.

Days before their video installation is scheduled to open at the 808 Gallery, Paul Woodrow and Alan Dunning are missing something: their projectors.

Trapped at the U.S.-Canadian border, the projectors are the missing link for their minimalist exhibition Phantom. Without its images, the gallery would contain a blank 60-foot screen, a camera, a few stereos, and a computer.

Scheduled to arrive last Friday, then over the weekend, the projectors finally showed up Monday afternoon — less than 24 hours before the show was scheduled to open — engendering a collective sigh of relief from Dunning and Woodrow.

With the projectors restored, the back half of the 808 Gallery is transformed into a space for sensory overload. The huge screen comes alive with swirls of color, while surrounding speakers send out a buzz of white noise.

The camera is pointed to the street, sending images and sound to the computer in real time. The images are deconstructed and rebuilt using algorithms created by the computer — until human imagination takes over.

“People will come in, and suddenly they’ll think they’ve heard a human voice in the sound. They’ll look at the screen and think they see a face projected,” says Woodrow, a professor of art theory and studio at the University of Calgary, in Alberta.

“It’s really just visual noise, but the observer’s brain creates the face, and then it’s gone,” says Dunning, chair of media arts and digital technologies at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. “Our interest is in this human drive to look for patterns.”

Phantom, built for the 808 Gallery, was created as part of the Einstein’s Brain Project, an ongoing collaboration between artists and scientists exploring human consciousness and constructions of the body. The exhibition uses strategies found in paranormal psychology and pattern recognition to explore ideas about how the human mind constructs the world.

“There’s this invisible world,” says Woodrow. “There are things we see, but then things we sense. I think we’re in that kind of tradition — making the invisible visible.”

Phantom is on display at the 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave., through January 17, 2010. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. An opening reception is being held today, Wednesday, November 18, from 6 to 8 p.m., with an artists talk at 5 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. For more info, call 617-353-3371.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.

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