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Beauty and anxiety

Paul Myoda's "Glittering Machines" at Yellow Peril
By GREG COOK  |  November 6, 2013

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KINETIC Myoda's 'Branching Light.'

Paul Myoda’s “Glittering Machines” resemble probe droids arriving from the future. They hang on the walls of Yellow Peril Gallery (60 Valley St, Providence, through November 17) like couture contemporary plastic and LED sconces. But they’re not just light fixtures. They exude alluringly intricate patterns across the walls (think crystals and snowflakes). But they’re prickly and threatening too. Proximity sensors trigger flashing and jittering bursts, as if to scare you away.

“The idea was giving some kind of behavioral attitude or personality to these things, like a person with a borderline personality disorder,” Myoda tells me. “There’s a kind of desperation often and then confusion, whether they want to attract people or repel people.”

He lives in the woods of Chepachet and teaches art at Brown University. His best-known project is Tribute In Light, a memorial to the 9/11 attacks made from searchlights shining two giant beams that fill the voids left by the destroyed World Trade Center towers in New York. He co-created it with Julian LaVerdiere in 2002 — originally they thought to call it Phantom Towers. It has become an annual installation each September 11.

Tribute In Light glows ghostly and soothing, holy maybe. His “Glittering Machines” are about beauty and anxiety.

Many will see them as robots. “But I didn’t want to make a robot at all,” Myoda says. “Like a plant. Like sleeping grass. It’s a kind of grass that if you touch it, it very quickly folds in on itself to protect itself.

“I want to have them have these personalities that are fraught with contradictions,” he says. “Some of them can be aggressive. But then if you sort of back off, they try to attract you again.”

Myoda’s machines seem predictable in their behavior. If you retreat, they calm down. But you can’t really read their moods. If a dog growls and then calms, you know to remain wary, but the situation feels more under control. But who knows how a machine will react?

Another style of kinetic sculpture, Branching Light hangs from the ceiling. It’s a network of acrylic rods laser-etched with a branching pattern and linked by hubs of LED lights and circuit boards. They twinkle, seemingly responding to your presence. Their pattern isn’t easily apparent, but if you watch how the lights react to someone else, they seem like a little constellation of stars following them around.

Myoda often begins by making charcoal sketches. “I was spending a bunch of time in the [Brown] greenhouses looking at different plant forms,” he says. He also searches the Internet for subjects to draw. “It forces me to pay attention to how that form is composed. Then as I draw them in lines, I can start to understand how to draw them in the computer. I was looking from the very natural, various bioluminescent organisms, siphonophores and jellyfish, those organisms that naturally emit light and they’re often found in the deep sea,” Myoda explains. “On the other spectrum are geometric or algorithmic procedures. . . You take a square and you perform some geometric operations to make a pattern.”

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