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 November 29, 2003 - January 17, 2004

John Klima
Train Terrain

Postmasters Gallery is proud to announce the exhibition Train Terrain, featuring two new installations by John Klima. Continuing his investigations into intersections of the virtual and the 'real,' Klima creates two complex pieces -- Train and Terrain -- that challenge the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds. This will be John Klima’s second solo show at Postmasters.

Train is a unique and original take on "mobile computing" and "the moving image." A narrative in miniature, Train spans the history of technology and its impact on culture and the aesthetics of representation.

The scene: A 15 x 23 foot model railroad layout that the artist painstakingly constructed by hand. The landscape seems familiar and, at the same time, awkward: a beach with azure blue waters juxtaposed with a bleak cityscape cum factory and protesters; an idyllic church next to an overpass and ambulance signaling disaster. Visitors to the gallery can navigate the landscape by using a phone (or their own cell phones) to control each of the two trains as they make their way around the track. The trains haul a special cargo, a Nintendo Gameboy hand-held game device, which presents the view out of the train's window -- a rendered 3D image reflecting the model scenery as the train travels through it. When a train stops, viewers are able to make choices by pressing buttons on their cell phone; they may choose the route and 'pick up' passengers along the way.

The characters: The 8 passengers who can be selected are not everyday people but famous movie stars, for example, Juliette, a free spirited young French woman (Brigitte Bardot from Roger Vadim's "And God Created Woman"); Vincent, a troubled painter (Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh in "Lust For Life"). Also on board are Sally Field as "Norma Rae," Chloe Webb as Nancy from "Sid and Nancy," Nicholas Cage (in a double role) as the drunk in "Leaving Las Vegas" and the ambulance driver in Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead," Harvey Keitel as the "Bad Lieutenant," and Rebecca DeMornay as the prostitute in "Risky Business." The landscape of the train alludes to scenes from the movies, with little figures representing the characters themselves.

When viewers have selected two or more passengers, the characters appear on the Gameboy and begin to have a conversation that can be overheard on the cell phone. The conversations are built out of sound clips from the respective roles and assembled 'on the fly.' Klima composed a complex 'conversation engine,' taking into account the personalities of the characters and creating a myriad of situations where the sex symbol and the drunk, the artist, prostitute, and punk can argue, console, flirt, and sometimes even downright insult each other, all depending upon who is on board the train. The foray into storytelling constitutes a whole new territory for Klima, who, up to this point, "avoided narrative like the plague," to quote the artist.

Train does not only point to the historical, technological progression from the advent of the railroad and the telegraph (which was used for facilitating the signaling and scheduling processes) to cell phones and computers, which can be traced back to early switching and relay systems. The project also is a manifestation of the ways in which digital technologies have transformed representation and storytelling: Train creates a branching and looping non-linear 'hypernarrative' where the moving image is scripted and disseminated via mobile devices; the pre-scripted movie conversations become subject to an engine that transforms them in ever-changing configurations; and the cinematic representation is juxtaposed to virtualized actors who are reproduced by means of 3D modeling techniques used in the computer game industry.

Terrain is the result of a 2002 grant that Klima received from The Daniel Langlois Foundation to invent and construct a 'dynamic display surface' for representing virtual 3D imagery and landscapes in three-dimensional, physical space. The culmination of Klima's explorations into "the real world as it exists in data," it is a large projection surface that can instantly contort and deform to shape landscapes based on 3D data sets. Projected onto this three-dimensional screen is a high resolution dynamic image that corresponds perfectly to the "terra-forming" surface below. The dynamic image is created from the same 3D data set as the projection, but rendered so that the shadows and highlights are direct translations of the three-dimensional contours of the objects being projected.

For this piece, Klima invented an analogue circuit that is triggered by nothing but light. This allows viewers to 'insert' themselves into the data stream by directly manipulating the surface through movements of their hands. "It's as close as you can get to Keanu Reeves reaching out and stopping the bullets in 'The Matrix,'" as the artist puts it. A matrix of light sensors receives a data stream from the projector, and the viewer can block and manipulate this flow in real-time, instantly seeing the effect on the physical surface itself. Any image can be projected onto the surface, which will instantaneously conform to the light and shadow of the image.

Terrain represents yet another unique angle on the issue of digital representation. Using light -- the analogue representational force behind photography and cinema -- Klima enables a seamless transition from virtual data to physical forms, simultaneously inserting the "human" as the manipulator, and master, of this transformation.

      Since his last exhibition at Postmasters in February 2001, John Klima participated in the Bitstreams (2001) and the Whitney Biennial exhibitions (2002), both at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, as well as Animations exhibition at PS.1, New York and KunstWerke, Berlin (2002-2003), Special Effects (2002) show at Daejeon Municipal Museum of Art, Daejeon, South Korea, and Lab3d (2003) exhibition at Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester, UK. His work was also exhibited at Eyebeam, and The New Museum of Contemporary Art, both in New York, and he participated in media festivals Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and AIM IV in Pasadena, among others.

      Later this season John Klima’s works will be seen at the Open House exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York (April 2004) and at the Ciberarts Festival Bilbao in Spain (April 2004). He will also have his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles opening in January at Bank Gallery.