Works in Progress IV
|The Detroit Institute of Arts February 14 - March 12, 1978|
The exhibition and
catalogue are sponsored by Founders Society Detroit
Institute of Arts and are made possible by a grant from the Michigan
for the Arts.
Initiating the 1978 Works in Progress series is an exhibition of sculpture by Jim Pallas. An artist well-known to Detroit, where he was born and educated, Pallas has ,been producing innovative kinetic pieces since 1968. In his unique use of technology a term associated with Detroit industry rather than Detroit art he has made a singular contribution to the significant work being created in Michigan today.
Until now, Pallas has not had the opportunity to display a group of his works publicly. The Works in Progress program attempts to give exposure and, hopefully, greater recognition to the work of outstanding artists in this state. It is also appropriate to show Pallas's work in this series since, throughout his career, he has been committed to living and working in the Detroit area. Believing that art is a thriving activity in Detroit, he has contributed greatly to the vitality of which he speaks.
Seven sculptures by Pallas completed over the past four years have been assembled for this exhibition. The core of the show, however, is a highly original environmental piece designed specifically for the Institute's North Court. North Court Tubedance is the largest work Pallas has ever constructed. Beginning late last December with the installation of a test piece, staff and visitors alike have been waiting in anticipation of seeing this work take form. The number, size, color, and configuration of the polyethelene tubes which inflate and deflate varies as the artist periodically alters the piece, exploring new permutations. The artist takes into account North Court activities such as luncheons and frequent pedestrian traffic, observing and relating the sculpture to the function of the space and creating an interactive piece which involves the viewer as partial programmer of the work of art. It is Pallas's concern for the role of people in his art that distinguishes his work within the range of kinetic sculpture.
Among the many individuals who have aided in making this unusual exhibition possible, we give special thanks to those who have donated materials for the North Court installation: Electronics Etcetera, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan for custom-designed electronic equipment; Bland Company, Warren, Michigan and an anonymous donor for the plastic tubing; and Roy Castleberry for the beads used at the top of the tubes.
Electronics Etcetera also provided the sound equipment used in The Ego Machine. The catalogue was produced by the museum's Publications Department, with particular
thanks to editors Susan Panitz and Terry Ann R. Neff. Special thanks are also due to Diane Kirkpatrick, whose astute appraisal and enthusiastic interest in Pallas's art has led to the fine essay which follows. Our sincere gratitude to Robert Vigiletti, who photographed all the works for the catalogue, as well as documenting the construction and subsequent installations of the Tubedance. The artist and his assistants, Jason, his son, Lydia, his daughter, and James Laur, also deserve recognition for having worked so intently in the last few weeks installing all the pieces. Finally we would like to express appreciation to the Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts and to the Michigan Council for the Arts for their ongoing support of the Works in Progress series.
Mary Jane Jacob
Department of Modern Art
|Figure 1. The Ego Hisself (cat.
Paul Klee, an artist with
whom I feel ceratin affinities, is
reputed to have said, "If you would have your work
speak for itself, then don't interupt it."
I dedicate this, my first show to Janet Laur Pallas.
The Artistic Vision of Jim Pallas
At any given moment man's position is defined by everything he does. This position is determined by his biological nature and by his participation in a given culture.
The kinetic work of Jim
Pallas can open doors to a rich understanding
of the complex technological society in which we live and our place
it. Ours is an era of rapid change. Society is viewed as a total
Within this system we find our lives governed more and more by the
beings and machines of bureaucracy. Simultaneously we are aware of the
vastness of time, the enormity of space, the loss of age-old concepts
stability and immutable things. How can the human part of the human
survive? Clues for survival can be found in Pallas's pieces, for he has
created a series of machine presences which speak to the creative child
in all of us. His pieces blend organic forms and electronic circuitry
visible dynamic systems which echo modern scientific descriptions of
defined through process, change, and flow.
Cloud (cat. no.9), for instance, is a performer. On the surface, gentle landscape forms trace the primary structure of earth, growing things, a cloud, and a small frog-beast. As in Paul Klee's world, one sees a schematic view of the whole of Nature's processes; one peers through the top plastic layer of earth to see where roots grow. But Cloud also goes beyond the traditional pictorial view of natural systems by responding visually to the shifting forces of its actual environment. Lights blink on and off in unpredictable rhythms. These lights reflect the activity of electronic circuits which respond to data fed into them from a wind attendant standing outside the building. Its propellers whirl in any breeze and send wind information directly to Cloud's electronic circuitry
The wind data is first received by the circuitry behind a horizontal row of 16 red lights which stretches across Cloud's land mass. Above these, at the right, four additional red lights are snared in the skeleton of a plant. These four lights indicate the activity of an electronic binary counter. Every time the last light in the horizontal row of 16 comes on, counting data is fed to the plant's binary ...
...counter, moving the data in sequence from left to right.
At the left, a second plant with two yellow lights and the frog-beast with two green lights form another binary counter which is triggered by input from the first light in the horizontal row of 16 lights. These gently blinking red, green, and yellow lights in Cloud are, in technical terms, LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which glow when an electric current is passed through them. Pallas's electronic circuitry governs the behavior of the electric current and the LEDs by using TTL (transistor-transistor logic) devices, each of which performs a specific function such as counting.
When the two counting systems in Cloud are both at a certain stage at the same time, an otherwise hidden word lights up within the fluffy cloud: CLOUD. This adds another type of symbolism - the word - which appears as a bright white flash of light, and has a distinctive clacking sound as the word activates and switches off. If Cloud and its wind attendant are viewed together (as it is installed in Pallas's house), one can witness both the wind action in the outdoor propellers and the immediate translation of its effects into lights and circuitry.
Pallas's electronic pieces like Cloud are cybernetic systems which operate on continual feedback from the natural environment. The parallel to all living organisms is striking. As Pallas said in a 1975 interview:
The universe is known to each individual organism as a result of its sensory perceptions and the significance it attributes to them. Attribution of significance is determined by the individual's perception-processing structure. This generally entails some kind of memory, environmental goals and perceptual-motor co-ordination. These are the kinds of processes that are involved in my work.
Jim Pallas has not always
made magical performing entities such as Cloud.
He grew up in Detroit and gradually found his way into art at the local
university. In the mid-1960s he made welded
from scavenged metal junk. These were traditional pieces: still, solid
forms inhabiting space. The expressionistic rough surfaces and jarring
subjects in works such as Assassin (1964) and Angry Dog (1966),
reflected both Pallas's less than easy living circumstances and the
angst of the turmoil-filled 1960s.
|Figure 2. Song for Luke
(cat. no. 6)
Figure 3. Wheel and Pendulum 2 (1970) (Not in exhibition)
These early works gradually began to incorporate implied movement and sound. Screaming Moon (1968), a rough-textured metal crescent moon, rests on a carefully machined miniature motor with an axle and wheels. The trailing pennant of red cut-out metal E's, in decreasing sizes, seems jaunty at first glance, then unnerving as the full import of the layered meaning sinks in: one "hears" their scream trailing off as the moon careens past.
The E's of Screaming Moon are meant to be seen and heard simultaneously; their shape and their sound are one. This is the realm of the Concrete Poets who have experimented at length with visual/verbal symbolism. Pallas is fascinated by such word magic. A poem by Larry Pike, "Report on a Man Learning to Fly at a Really New Altitude," was the inspiration in 1965 for a five-part intagho print in which the meaning of the words determines their configuration on the page.
More recently words have appeared in Pallas's rubber stamp drawings in which the multiple symbolism of verbal communication is presented directly with great verve. For example, in THIS IS NOT ART cloud w/OK rain (cat. no.3), a multiple drawing first made in 1975, cloud and rain forms composed of words form a concrete poem whose visual shapes and implied sound meanings coincide
Words take on a different perspective in Phoney Vents (Phone Events), begun in 1973. For these, Pallas made short tapes of familiar phrases which range from the mundane "at the tone, the time will be ...." through a heady collage of sound-track fragments from classic Hollywood films. For willing participants, the phone rings in their home at an unannounced time and a recording is played. The listener has no foreknowledge of who is calling. The recording, heard out of any expected context, forces an altered awareness of the particular words on the Phoney Vent tapes. At the end of many of the recordings, Pallas announces: "This has been Phoney Vent number......"
Later Phoney Vents are sent only to frequent recipients and this coda is omitted. From the beginning Pallas was concerned about the intrusive, aggressive quality of the Phoney Vents, which might arrive at awkward moments. So he has evolved plans for a Phoney Vent variation called Dial Event which will use a telephone answering tape machine and a listed phone number, allowing the user to dial in at any time to receive an event. Many artists will be invited to contribute Dial Events to the tape storage bank.
Pallas takes a Duchampian delight in the punning power of words. A T-shirt project is in the works with different front designs to be contributed by various Detroit artists. On the back is the logo, Detroit Art Works, designed by Pallas and performance and video artist Dana Atchley.
For a while I called myself Pallas Art Works. I decided Detroit Art Works is a nice idea because I wouldn't monopolize the term. The Detroit Art Works is just a euphemism for the Detroit art scene. But it also had a personal meaning to me because it's a statement, a sentence: Detroit art works. It worksWhile developing these word activities, Pallas continued to make sculpture. Works such as Screaming Moon led him to the design of actual kinetic pieces:
Detroit. It's a nice idea and needed. 2
I found myself dealing with sound and movement, but in the traditional ways, making things that implied movement or involved the concept of movement or change or sound. And yet the things never moved. Nor did they make any sound. So I came to a point where I realized:The first fully kinetic piece look Pallas two years to make (1968-69). It was a very complicated tiny machine presence, programmed to move about a space in search of a specific light level. It proved technically unreliable and Pal las also found it esthetically uninteresting:
OK, you can't go any further this way. You're going to have to back off and go in a radically different direction.
I learned from that that I needed to learn a lot. I needed to do much simpler things I set myself a problem: to deal with the kinetic interactions between a pendulum and a wheel, between an oscillation and a rotation which are two basically different kinds of movement.The ensuing series of 20 pendulum and wheel pieces explored many aspects of the interactions between those movements. In these works Pallas strove for reliability:
|Figure 4. Portrait of the Artist
(cat. no. 2)
...because reliability is something that relates in my mind to the traditional teaching of craft in the arts. Working at the museum ~he Detroit Institute of Arts, Education Department] taught me that these things may be around a couple of hundred years and there are going to be people who will have to deal with the problems that occur. You have a responsibility to those people to make things that can be maintainedThe pendulum and wheel series also found Pallas becoming aware of "the esthetics of kinetics. It made me deal with what kinds of movements go together." The series brought a more fundamental revelation for his future work as well "I began to sense that there's an energy. You come to regard the piece as a system of energy that's all interrelated."
The beginning of the work is figuring out the circuits, the behavior of the circuits. It doesn't look anything like what it's going to look like. It's just some circuitry, usually with the LEDs so I can see what the circuits are doing.
Song for Luke (fig. 2),
began with the design of exposed solid-state
circuitry and evolved into the performer one sees. As the piece
so did the title and the multiple symbolic references which the piece
for the artist. Among other possibilities, it suggests a simplified
figure, a Latin cross, and a shamanistic machine. One recalls Eduardo
words: "Acid-etched, copper-plated, dipped in liquid solder, the
printed circuit, intricate, complex, evocative, as pretty as a Faberge'
Red LEDs flicker in enticing combinations within Song for Luke's diamond-shaped "face." Visible behind the body circuitry plate is a row of red LEDs which light in a vertical
traveling sequence in response to data fed in by two photocells. One photocell responds to light; the other sees darkness. Data is continually ted into the bottom of the vertical line of LEDs, moving up the line as new information enters.
For Pallas, this piece became linked in a dream with the female Eurynome who (in a Pelasgian creation myth) comes alive in chaos, divides it into sky and sea, dances on the waves, mates with her movement (Ophione), and lays the universal egg which hatches all the rest of creation. The light display in Song for Luke is generated by two on/off circuits which respond to light and darkness in the environment. As with Eurynome, here the ability to distinguish difference leads to the flow of creation.
The reference to Luke, dual patron of physicians and painters, is more personal. It is specifically linked to the artist's admiration for and gratitude to the doctors and staff at Henry Ford Hospital who successfully treated several of Pallas's close relatives at the time of the piece's birth.
At least two of Pallas's recent works contain information about how he sees himself. Portrait of the Artist (fig. 4) includes a life mask and portrays the artist as witch doctor, recalling the nickname "Wizard" bestowed on Pallas by two young friends.
The Ego Machine (cat. no.7), at first glance a troupe of unrelated performers, is actually united by one electronic system. All interact on data from two indoor photocells and a microphone, and from two propellers and a photocell on an outdoor wind attendant. The indoor ensemble pieces are called The Ego, Hisselt; The Old Bag: Moon and Cloud:
and Baby (which, when inverted, becomes Metaphysical Clouds). Each piece has its particular function. For Pallas, each also corresponds to a part of the artist's being, with the wind attendant, the microphone, and the photocells representing all the data from the world that pours into the artistic consciousness.
The data goes first to The Ego, Hisseif (fig. 1), which contains the microphone and the indoor photocells. The Ego passes data to the other indoor pieces which respond, each in its individual way. It also has a three-channel sound synthesizer which sends processed data through the owner's stereo system when the speakers and amplifier are activated. In shape, The Ego resembles a bejewelled blue and green bird; the body is encased in a network of interlaced lacquered metal rods. This lacy skin creates a
mysterious world of its own. The form and encasing framework make The Ego part of Pallas's Wazoo series, which includes The Grand Wazoo (1976). Pallas referred to this framework as "dwarfish work." He explained that he was reading J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings at the time he was making The Grand Wazoo and this metal skeining seemed to him the kind of form that cavern dwellers would create to echo their physical surroundings.
The Ego's head contains a matrix of LEDs which perform in mesmerizing clusters. One thinks of cities at night, of the Christmas festivals of one's youth, of the awesome starlit firmament. Bunches of patch cords (cords which can be plugged into multiple jacks) and a host of jacks allow the viewer to help actually program the behavior of The Ego and, thence, of the other three indoor pieces. For Pallas, The Ego acts as intelligence, receiving information, processing it, and sending it out to the various individual parts of its being.
The Old Bag inflates, deflates, and waves various appendages. Says Pallas:
It was called "The Holy Ghost" for a while. But that was kind of heavy. I came to realize that the piece is a spiritual piece, an empty piece, an empty spirit. It's like Death.
This death is not
frightening. It is a shifting, changing, integral
part of the process of the whole Ego Machine. Its soughs and clicks
counterpoint to the synthesized sounds generated by The Ego.
Moon and Cloud is a serene skyscape on which a cloud drifts around the sky, occasionally obscuring the moon. Intermittently, an interior light illuminates the translucent plastic relief. This piece expresses, for the artist, the ideal aspect of his spirit.
Near The Ego rests Baby or Metaphysical Clouds. As Baby, this piece crawls around on three pairs of legs, its six feet being markers which create drawings of its actions. A fence or playpen limits the field of Baby's activities. The choice of medium (crayon, pencil, felt marker, ballpoint pen) and the activating information from the environment have allowed Baby to execute, so far, an amazing variety and complexity of drawings. When Baby is turned over, it becomes stationary: its six marker feet are replaced by three mirror clouds which revolve at varying rates in response to environmental data. For Pallas, this piece
represents the artist as
doer and maker of art.
The Ego Machine gave Pallas his first opportunity to explore sound for a piece: "I set myself the assignment of acquainting myself with all the music that man makes that I could lay my hands on in records." Pallas also explored recorded natural sounds and listened attentively to ambient sounds. Then he installed the three-channel synthesizer in The Ego Machine. The synthesized sound alters the viewer's experience, imposing a heavy rhythmic structure over the more delicate visual composition. In viewing Pallas's other works, one becomes accustomed to the integral sounds of the moving parts at work. These rhythms interweave easily with the visual ones. Musical sound is another world. This new meld will undoubtedly, in time, foster the new sensitivities necessary to comprehend it. For the present, The Ego Machine can give a complete perceptual emotional experience without the synthesized musical accompaniment.
Pal las's work may suggest the kinetic sculpture of other artists. Like Alexander Calder and George Rickey, Pallas has used wind to "drive" some of his works. But instead of allowing wind to act directly on his sculptures, Pallas transforms its energy into electric current which triggers groups of electronic circuits which we watch in LED patterns. Nicholas Scho~ffer also builds cybernetic systems using light and sound sensors to gather environmental data which activate parts of his sculptures, but his sculptural forms are rectilinear with shiny, machined surfaces. They perform with the precise controlled movements of a robot- like ballet and derive from the tradition of Moholy-Nagy's Light-Space Modulators and the Bauhaus machine-style esthetic. On the other hand, Pallas's sculpture blends the organic and the technological. Although Jean Tinguely does invest his ramshackle machines with an organic quality, he "solves" the reliability factor of kinetic sculpture by deliberately making mechanically unreliable pieces. This solution is in direct opposition to the creative approach exhibited in Pallas's careful craftsmanship. Pallas's unique and joyous machines partake of both science's intricate technological precision and nature's delicate structuring.
Most of Pallas's electronic pieces have been commissioned. They were designed to live in certain spaces and to work for certain people:
A commission for a private residence takes into account every factor I can think of, [including] what sort of activities the people that it's for would want to encourage in terms of their own behavior because sculptures that sense the environment change people's behavior.
Pallas's commissioned pieces will certainly behave differently in formal public museum space than they do in the intimate private environments for which they were designed North Court Tubedance (cat. no 1) has been designed for the museum's specific lofty site. Portrait of the Artist was created in Pallas's tiny studio with the knowledge that it would alter once it could float free in a space close to that he envisioned for it. Whatever their genesis, Pallas's works remain dynamic living systems. As such they can present clues to help us grasp the exquisite beauty inherent in our lives within this shifting, flowing world.
Department of The History of Art
The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
1 Janet Roos, "A chance Encounter with The Grand Wazoo," Mich/ganArtjournat, 1,1 (Jan.1976).' 13-15.
2. All direct quotes in this essay, unless otherwise noted, come trom the author's interview with the artist on January 4, 1978.
3. Eduardo Paolozzi. "Notes From a Lecture at The Institute ot Contemporary Arts, 1958," Uppercase No. 1, reprinted in Diane Kirkpatrick, Eduardo Paolozzi. London, 1979:120
Catalogue of the
Technological note: These sculptures are constructed primarily of steel rod painted with several layers of acrylic lacquer, with panels and lenses usually made of cut and heat-formed Plexiglas. The electronic circuitry, designed and constructed by the artist and Dick Dudchik, utilizes TTL logic devices which, like a simple computer, create electrical equivalents for abstract logic operations. When electric current is passed through light-emitting diodes (LEDs the small red, yellow, and green lights which are transistor-like devices), the LEDs radiate in the visible portion of the spectrum. In addition to TTL logic devices, patch cords (cords which can be plugged into multiple jacks), are sometimes used to change the logic, thus altering the action of the pieces.
Dimensions are given with
height preceding width preceding depth, unless
Court Tubedance 1978
10.7 x 12.2 xl 2.2 m. (35x40x40 ft.) The group of polyethelene tubes which inflate and deflate according to the changing stimuli in the North Court, such as light intensity, sound, and pedestrian traffic, is to be regarded as a constantly changing work, since the artist periodically alters the number of tubes, their size, configuration, and/or the coordination of their activities. A display of preliminary drawings and photographs of its construction and subsequent changes documents this work. The public is invited to participate by writing comments and suggestions in the notebook provided. The first arrangement, The Fibonacci Tubedance, is dedicated to the artist's dearest friend, David Barr.
This special installation
was designed and constructed for this particular
site in the Institute and will exist only for the duration of the
Constructed at The Detroit Institute of Arts
of the Artist 1978 Diam. 50.8x 1.335.3cm. (20 in. X lift.)
Light-sensitive circuits responding to ambient light cause the inflation of the large polyethelene bag,which is attached to a beaded life mask of the artist,and create a sequence of twitches along the length of the bag.
Collection of the artist
3. THIS IS NOT ART cloud
w/OK rain 1978
Rubber stamp print
17.1 ><22.9 cm.
(6~/4 x 9 in.)
Collection of the artist
4. Wasp/I 1978 H. 10.7m.
This painted steel and aluminum wind
mobile is equipped with wind sensors that control, via an underground cable, the
actions of other sculptures. In this exhibition, it controls Cloud(cat. no. 9) and The Ego Machine (cat. no.7), in place of their usual wind attendants.
Collection of the artist
5. Untitled 1977
223.5 x 195.6 x 43.2cm
(7 ft. 4 in. x6tt. Sin. x 17 in.)
Patterns are produced by means of patch cords on a 16 x 16 LED matrix in response to light and sound.
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Borden, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
6. Song for Luke
83.8x 17.8 xl 7.8cm. (33x7x7in
This multiple, constructed of a Plexiglas lens, mirror, and base, contains an 8 x 8 LED matrix which is controlled by light sensitive circuits.
Collection of the artist
page 14 Cat no.9
7. The Ego Machine 1976-77 This work consists of five interactive sculptures:
Wind Attendant (not in
exhibition) L. 182.9 cm.
This painted aluminum wind mobile is equipped with two wind sensors and a photo-sensitive eye that provide data via an underground cable
to The Ego, Hisself.
The Ego, Hisseif
213.4 x 228.6 x 43.2cm.
(7f1. x7ft. 6in. Xl7in.)
This piece both receives data from the wind-sensitive attendant and senses ambient light and sound itself. This data is fed into the logic structure and manipulated by means of patch cords to produce changes in the light pattern of LEDs, to determine the sounds produced by a three-channel sound synthesizer, and, by means of a cable, to control the behavior of the following three units.
The Old Bag
228.6 xl 01.6 x 25.4cm.
(7ft. 6in. x40x lOin.)
The polyethelene bag inflates, the zebra
tails wisk, and the feather flops.
Moon and Cloud
38.1 x53.3x12.7 cm. (15><21 X5 in.) The plastic relief is occasionally illuminated and the cloud migrates around the sky.
Baby or Metaphysical
Clouds 48.3x53.3x38.l cm.
(19 x 21 xl5 in.)
As suggested by the double title, this unit has two modes. As Baby, it crawls on feet equipped with markers and creates drawings on paper, thus recording its activities. As Metaphysical Clouds (when turned upside down), three mirrored clouds revolve at varying rates.
Private Collection, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
8. Jerry's Demon 1975
101 .6x121 .9x33 cm. (40x48x 13 in.)
In this two-unit sculpture, the pattern on the 8 x 8 LED matrix of the larger unit is
produced in response to the data collected by the light and sound-sensitive smaller
Collection of the artist
9. Cloud 1974 Dam. 76.2
cm. (30 in.)
The light patterns of the 24 LEDs on the
plastic relief are produced in response to two wind sensors on an outdoor wind
attendant. At irregular intervals, the cloud is illuminated with the word CLOUD.
Collection of Dr. Janet Laur Pallas,
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Original catalog designed
by Ford & Earl DesignAssociates
Copyright 1978 by the Detroit Institute of Arts ISBN 089558-068-3