Chinese American Arts Council
456 Broadway 3rd Floor
By MARK BLOCH, MARCH 2021
Outscape Escape centers around Lorin Roser’s 3D animations, digital prints, architectural models and an artist book.
Perhaps this exhibition of eye-popping, undulating, electronically-generated architectural works looks the way it does because, when he looks at the world, Lorin Roser sees a layered, fantastic and untethered sci-fi future that could just as easily be relocated to other planets or float above the surface of this one as if the law of gravity were optional. Here on Planet Earth 2021, his interests lie not in appearances but a user-friendly phantom universe that lies just behind what is seen and heard, a parallel dimension of math and design where a playful skeleton of our physicality lives, with strings to be pulled, lattice or frameworks to be adjusted, constantly in motion, and to which random clumps of substance and denser forms might be attached, colorized and/or called out later—but without guarantees. Roser’s world is a one of endless potential and possibilities, not hard rules, done deals or stifling limitations. It is in motion - an improv. And so he does insist on one thing: humanism. Issues of scale abound in these architectonic works but more importantly, in looking at the imperfections of the physical world we inhabit, Roser does not blink—landscapes are not just seen or embraced but held up as an ideal. While he loves machines, he uses them to accentuate, not erase, the beauty of natural imperfections, flaws and deficiencies.
“I appreciate the Dada and Fluxus desire to escape the ego by using chance in works of art,” he tells me as he presses a button to unleash a torrent of cascading animated images. “I like to be surprised by my own artwork. So I utilize math simulations of real life physics to get outside the design process and bring real life spontaneity into my work.”
Besides several moving images on a video monitor, Roser has brought the gallery to life with several wall mural images—pictures of imaginary megastructures printed by laser or dot matrix printers onto various materials, creating textured fabric murals and reflective planes of sleek metal. A few of the printed works were added to by drawing, gluing or sewing. Like robotic eyeballs, on one mural a pair of adhered CDs catch the light and remind us that Roser is a composer and a musician in addition to his work as an animator, computer graphic designer and architect.
“Somebody who was trained as an architect once said that my work defies gravity. My answer was that the science fiction writers tell us that we are headed for a time when there will be an anti-gravity device. A lot of my work is designed to float endlessly in infinite space. It's ready.”
Roser says of the work 7 Capsule, a wall sized cotton fabric mural pinned to the wall tightly, creating a stretched look, “These are murals—imagine them three stories high. They might be kind of overbearing, but architecture is like that. Experiencing architecture is huge, stepping into other dimensions.” These pieces bear that out: immense, fragmented cubo-futurist behemoths holding court over the gallery space.
Motioning to 7 Capsule and another work in this series, Roser says, “Outscape and 7 Capsule are the same image with different views of the same 3D environment.” When I reply that I like the look of it pinned to the wall, Roser replies. “It looks like a billowing sail—a mariner setting out on a voyage.” He calls Outscape the most successful work in this series, “This one has more texture and it is the first one we made—for a public event. The rest were all printed for this project.”
The dark, dense black background of the work House on a Hill on a white cotton surface engulfs the soft material it is printed on but retains its soft texture and colors. “I’m very fond of mixing textures like shiny metal and furry fabrics,” he tells me as I ask permission to penetrate the space surrounding his digital vision to touch its lush surface.
About the blue-grey mural piece titled Archimural, he tells me that the deconstructed foreground shape has been “sphere-i-fied,” the subject of a “geometric manipulation,” then adds, “I think a 40-foot video screen with a really good sound system in a movie theater is the best way to see my digital art. My fear is that after Covid, movie theaters won’t exist anymore. But lockdowns can't destroy the human desire for intimacy and gathering together. Watching video brings us together in a common experience. And that in itself is healing.”
“Using humanity, along with using math and code and systems, you create variety. Using the power of the computer to build out what the mind conceives, using new tools and new technologies, I take advantage of new mathematical help available that gives new meaning to the idea of something being labor-intensive,” he told me turning to his right. “This print on metal over here is a digital image that has emerged out the computer into reality. It takes human ideas and builds technological solutions.”
Roser then produced a shiny, oddly-shaped 3D casting he created, in 8 inch thick metal, not on it. “That’s why I had this model made: to get the idea of a form into reality. That art and anti-art thing you see in Dada translates into today’s terms as reality vs. virtuality. We slip more and more in between the two sides of the coin as time goes by,” he stated.
Next, Roser alerted me to his kind of radical homage to Le Corbusier, known by his nickname "Corbu," the magnet for so many architectural endeavors of the last century—some of which that went bad. “This piece is called Corbu-ruption,” Roser explained. “My teacher, Ken Frampton, is the world’s great authority on Corbu, the man who created a style that became housing estates—the most infamous of which is Pruitt-Igoe, which then had to be demolished,” he said, as if the words manifested Roser’s internal witnessing of the serpentine history of architecture—one that forms the foundation of his own deconstructed world view.
“I tried to imagine using his shapes from physical simulations and re-create them in a new way so they wouldn’t be so stultifying. Corbu had a show at MoMA a few years ago and I countered with a version of this work in a New Museum show, IdeasCity.”
So if not Corbu, who influenced Roser? “I’m very influenced by the Japanese Metabolists In the ‘60s, who thought of buildings as machines,” he says. “And by a British group, the Archigrams, with Reyner Banham and Peter Cook, who did similar things.”
Metabolism was a post-war architectural movement that fused architectural ideas with concerns about organic biological growth. Banham (1922 – 1988) was an English critic and writer who relocated to the US in 1976. Sir Peter Cook (born 1936) was Archigram's founder. Archigram was anti-hero, pro-consumerist and, like Roser, drew inspiration from technology and only hypothetically-expressed projects.
Finally, Minoru Takeyama, a Harvard grad who was also schooled in Japan, created some of the earliest examples of Japanese architectural postmodernism. “Another influence was Takeyama,” he told me. “I actually went to see his stuff in a very seedy part of Tokyo. Kabukicho, Tokyo, an area filled mostly with bars and tattoo parlors. His buildings were very modern and futuristic. He started a group called United Actions in Tokyo in 1965.”Harkening back to his own education at Princeton University and grad studies at UCLA, Roser recalls, “I was trained as an architect to carry my 5 foot drawing board on my back to Columbus Circle. That’s how it was done in those days. I was drawn to perspective and the traditional arts until I studied with Frampton the architectural historian, the well-known Craig Hodgetts in California, and finally Yoshio Taniguchi, who redesigned MOMA in 2004, who taught me how to make spaghetti with clam sauce.” With a smile he added, “He was a very good cook who taught me to embrace humor and the flow of life.”
Streamng from the past to the present, Roser refers to “the recent pictures from Mars: such an architecturally dry, dull environment. But now with the pandemic, we realize there could be a variant that we could not control and we’d be forced to go off the planet. So I evvision an architecture that could sustain us and become the original seeds of a new living urban earthscape.”
When I asked Lorin if he thinks of all the visionary pieces that surround us as places that people could actually inhabit he remembered “the 101st floor of the original World Trade One— one of my projects. I remember the futuristic Network Command Centers after 9/11— bigger, stronger, more imaginative solutions for cities to protect against cyberattack. I did all that imagining of dystopian worlds before I did it as a job.”
Motioning to his Space Barn and the exhibited model made of rag board situated beneath it, Roser says, “I like to develop models and sketch first, then build it out in the computer but most of the design thinking is done in a traditional way. This is a ‘bone house,’ to remind us of our mortality,” he said, calling my attention to a combination Noguchi-like structure that straddles a smooth animal bone reminiscent of a desert cavern, “to make people realize how thin the thread is we hang from. The earth is such a fragile planet while we squander the resources. Dystopia is sending us a message— like a canary in a coal mine.”
Turning behind him toward his House on a Hill, Roser said “This was once an eight story high structure in my imagination which is now a print out of a 360 degree VR walk-through. Many of these creations were once just a walk-through—a game in real time—that were then frozen for a moment— all steps in bringing in imperfections, bringing reality into the computer or out of the computer and back into reality.”
I asked him “Do you see the real world and the computer world as separate?” “No,” he said. “I see them more as converging. I think the pandemic has really done that because time spent on Zoom and video screens is really forcing us to combine the two realms and our brains are starting to meld them into a new paradigm.”
Turning back to the two small white tableaus contain models in the room, Roser explains, “This is called Ring House. I love the way curves can become straight and where that change takes place as we travel inside the videos. I don’t think it is really been explored adequately in architecture.” Roser creates these 3D paper models, keeps them nearby when he works on the computer elaborating them into his wild video constructions. “They start as a photo with my phone,” he says playfully.
When I asked about adding to the digitally printed images with shapes or marks and recreating models anew on screens, Roser compared it to his sound compositions. “It’s like when you mix a recorded sound piece and you add reverb. Sometimes real time ability really reminds me of improvisational jazz. It allows feedback as you sculpt ideas into fictionalized forms. I get addicted to searching for sounds as I combine digital and analog sounds as soundtracks for my videos, deeply concerned about creating a score that elicits a specific emotional mood.”
“I think that Covid is relevant because it makes it clear that pestilence could mean we have to leave our earthly human comforts behind in order to survive. It becomes more and more a probability something that would’ve been unthinkable just a year ago. There’s a need to wing it in order to ncreate hospitals and rapid housing— these artworks could become separate quarantine units with survival kits tailored to the inhabitants.”
“So I first started out in music using strange attractors math to use chaos theory to create musical scores and then I'd create a program to simultaneously place geometry using the same coordinates. From there I went on to do it more in 3D, using chaos theory and other manipulations—smoke, fire, water, gravity. Newtonian reactions. The computers are so powerful.” His 3D animation called Pagoda Mist (30 seconds) reveals a deep blue building as shiny and curvy as a new sports car swirls while an Asian pagoda structure at its side rises and falls. “And it kind of curves in on itself like a Klein bottle—the inside becomes the outside.” A Klein bottle is a mobius strip-like form with boundaries that defies logic. All this as I listen to plucking sounds reminiscent iof a Japanese koto.
Then pointing out the next video he says, “This one is called Pagoda Starwars (2 minutes 15 seconds) where I had the art—fashioned from a repetitive roof area—stacked up like a pagoda,” giving rise to more echos of his Asian roots.
Of another newly creeated 3D video, Replicator Wind (3 minutes), Roser says “I worked on this in the last year. Here I’ve created a kind of game engine that also replicates but here I was interested in creating a Duchampian sense of repetition like the Nude Descending A Staircase. I’ve always loved his series of paintings that include Bride,” he says, calling attention to a turbulent storm of fragments in motion he created that circle around a pulsating, twisting three-dimensional, net-like grid.
Inspired by Duchamp’s work that was described at the 1913 Armory Show as “an explosion in a shingle factory” Roser refers to this piece as a “real time version of using code to create changes and variations… straight lines, geometric, kinetic and dynamic… with code and math… movements created with the shader.”
Then Roser adds, “There are programs now where you can sample the colors in a painting and put them on your materials—methodologies to try and create variation in imperfection that mirrors reality. I am always trying to find a way to create more realistic variations. Analog music is so much richer than digital.“
Of Crystal Pagoda (1 minute)” he says, “This is sort of a 3D distortion of suburbia. I just physically twisted the stuff on the screen to show the extreme physicality of the architecture. I use different electronic techniques to make artistic statements combining disparate emotional expressions.” The piece starts with an explosion in a pagoda then morphs into a topsy turvy, David Lynchian carnival of stressed walls within gentrified neighborhoods.
“Sometimes after I write the code, it becomes a piece that is interactive. Because of innovations in technology in the last year, it’s now possible to present real time ray tracing, which means the virtual light, shadows and reflections are pretty accurate. With high-grade hardware, it’s possible for consumers to create this kind of real time, interactive environment.”
“There is a trigger and when you push that trigger it starts replicating. It’s an interactive environment that you can walk through which starts a form replicating, changing the environment. And it doesn’t require rendering for days and days like it used to. So it’s a tremendous breakthrough, technologically, for digital artists, because suddenly you can do lots of things in real time, creating never-before-seen atmospheric conditions of insatiable curiosity.”
Roser is an American with strong Chinese roots. About his 3D anime Continental Train Wave (1 minute 7 seconds) he states, “This piece relates to lost Chinese ancestors during the building of the continental railroad. One relative returning home didn’t make it back.” The video tribute shows an old fashioned steam locomotive that has become combustible fuel for Lorin Roser’s imagination.
Roser combines analog and digital, past and future, perfection and imperfection, to tell his own unique story in three or four dimensions and then beyond. “These palm trees I got from reality, from an environmental shot whereas these trees here are computer-made. That’s one of the great struggles in gaming: to create the varied movement of the foliage.”
He continues. “A lot of energy is spent doing that—it’s called ‘the uncanny valley’ where something computerized doesn’t look right and disturbs the viewer until it does. So people create imperfections to bridge that valley.”
Roser lived in California where so much electronically-generated art is made. This architect and animation maven moved to the east coast where he collaborated with his partner, the energetic visual artist Nina Kuo and the two became catalysts for artistic collaborations of all kinds. Roser, a gentle regular in the aggressive Manhattan art scene, has long been sought-after, both as a performer of both analog and electronic sound, and for his command of AI and electronically-created digital video art, both the still and animated varieties, all seen here.
Roser concludes, “I’m kind of a renegade, an artistic renegade wanting to combine everything. I don't want to be crammed into a bottle, I want to emerge from a bottle like a genie on the loose. I create music, architecture, video and I am passionate about design. I believe artists have to be able to cross boundaries and create collaborations of all kinds. I don't know if that’s partially due to an ethnic background that positions me in many places simultaneously.” But that is where he is—in several worlds at once.
Before I departed Lorin Roser's visual and meta-architectural cabinet of curiosities, he made a point of showing me something I had missed in all the excitement--the beautiful artistbook he made on display in the gallery. The pages overflowed with images that have titles like Architopolis and Hackopolis and alterntive views of his work called Space Barn that was hanging on the gallery wall beside us. This powerful collection of video still prints on various surfaces, just like the images in the gallery, offer yet more unexpected outcomes as they leap off the page instigating dreams of Roser's new hybrid world—part reality and part imagination. As he flipped through the pages, the visual works in this book transported me beyond the pandemic, beyond Roser’s ethnic background, beyond this carefully-bound autogenic travel guide to another place: a bizarre, otherworldly foreign land, full of architectonic dreams and strangely familiar musical scores—that drift on new materials and new ideas, presciently making their way to create themselves—here, somewhere else, now, and in the future.WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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