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Clay Center opens new exhibit -- and it's about time

Chip Ellis
Arif Khan, curator of art at the Clay Center, demonstrates how a touch on a screen adds images to "Dendrochronologist's Dilemma," by Mary Tsiongas.
Chip Ellis
Each screen in "Hydraphilia," by Gail Wight, shows slime molds as they grow.
Chip Ellis
In a work from Tsiongas' "Vanish" series, a visitor appears in and interacts with a 19th-century Albert Bierstadt landscape.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Art, science, the element of time and interactive technology join forces in the Clay Center's latest exhibit, "All the Time in the World.""The exhibit fits the art and science mission of the Clay Center," said Arif Khan, Clay Center's curator of art. "The two visual artists are both inspired by the history of science in their work."Khan curated the exhibit, which previously was displayed at the McColl Center for Visual Art, in Charlotte, N.C. It's the first exhibit by a Clay Center curator to be shown at another arts institution.It features works by Stanford University art professor Gail Wight, whose work explores the history of science, and University of New Mexico electronic media professor Mary Tsiongas, who looks at humans' impact on nature.Khan had the idea for the exhibit about 1 1/2 years ago after Wight gave a presentation at the Clay Center. Patrons, enthused about the talk, requested an exhibit featuring her work. Much of Wight's work includes an element of time, so Khan sought another artist whose art emphasized time.He found one in Tsiongas, who features images such as tree rings to show the passing of time, often with an interactive element that brings in a contemporary concept.In "Dendrochronologist's Dilemma," an oversize image of a tree ring projected on a wall stands behind a touchpad that shows the same image. When a viewer touches the screen, a shadowy image appears on the projected tree rings. Images of families, seasons and animals appear, depending on where the viewer touches the screen."Tsiongas uses the theme of the tree rings representing dates and a life circle and intersperses personal memories," said Khan. Her works often contrast nature's perception of time with how the viewer remembers it.The exhibit also points out the ways in which science has influenced contemporary art. "Ground Plane," by Wight, is a series of 12 large prints of patterns created through digital images of fossilized and newer bones that were available to her through the science departments at Stanford."There were drawers and drawers of bones, and she wondered what she could do with them," Khan said. None of the bone images are repeated in any of the 12 prints. They range from modern bones to those that are 10,000 years old.Two other motion-picture pieces by Wight document surprisingly beautiful slime molds and lichens as they grow. The time-lapse photography of each piece contrasts the fast-growing slime with the lichen's more glacially paced growth.Although some of the screens resemble iPads, they were built in 2001 and don't have the same technological capabilities. Khan said children, who are accustomed to today's technology, touch and swipe the pads without result.
In other works, Tsiongas shows landscape paintings from the 19th century on framed flat-screen televisions. In a seaside scene, an image of herself walking on the beach or a whale surfacing occasionally appears, catching viewers by surprise."She connects nature and how it was portrayed through history. As an artist, she wanted to literally enter into it," he said.
He asked both artists about updating the technology used in their art."They were both intrigued by what new technology could offer those pieces. but then if they did that, they felt that the piece would change and become something else. They liked that the tech used dated the piece to the time of its creation," Khan said in an email.It's all about time.Two free programs in May and June offer additional insight on the exhibit's subject. Kahn and Ryan Hill, director of digital learning programs at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., will discuss the impact of digital technology on museum education at 6 p.m. May 23.Tsiongas will discuss her works at 6 p.m. June 6.Want to go?
WHAT: "All the Time in the World" is sponsored by the Collectors Club, an organization that supports Clay Center art programs and collection.WHERE: Clay CenterWHEN: Through Aug. 4ADMISSION: Adults $7.50, children $6; free for museum membersCONTACT: For more information on these and other Clay Center exhibits and programs, visit or call 304-561-3570.Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230.
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