Surrender to the spectacle

Being there: It’s not so much that you will look at the audio/visual installation — you will become it.

Give yourself an hour to take in Bryan Eno’s 77 Million Paintings at the YMI. It’s not so much that you will look at the audio/visual installation — you will become it. The dark room, ambient music, cushy sofas, high rafters and glowing screens that emit an hypnotic light show, invite you to slow down, sit for a while and become accustomed to the space. Once you do, it’s likely that you won’t want to leave.

Known primarily for his pioneering use of sound and music production, in the last decade Eno has become increasingly interested in a format he refers to as ”visual music.” Regarding his minimal aesthetic and ambient soundtracks, Eno said, “I wanted to see where the threshold of eventlessness lies.”

The projections for 77 Million Paintings occur on 12 computer screens and are Eno’s own graphics — created digitally and by hand. Through generative software, three computers randomly select images, which slowly morph together, resulting in a fluid piece with more than “one hundred million cubed” possible combinations — insuring that you will never see the same thing twice. “What you saw today, you won’t see again tomorrow,” said Eno at a press talk last month.

For some, Eno’s 77 Million Paintings might be experienced as a calming sanctuary or recall a place of worship. The slow timing, and endless stream of morphing images, however, may easily frustrate others. If so, Eno hopes to “refresh your memory of what surrender is like and what pleasure it can bring.”

During his “Illustrated Talk” at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium during Moogfest, Eno spoke extensively about the concepts of control and surrender (among other topics ranging from haircuts to collective intelligence.) “We consider it a huge achievement to control nature,” said Eno, “It is also an achievement to surrender to nature.”

The controversy seems to lie in the configuration of the LCD screens, which bare a resemblance to that of a swastika. When asked about its significance, Eno said the arrangement does not have any fixed meaning. Rather, he was working with computer screens of a specific size, (“They only make them in that shape,”) and landed upon the arrangement he happened to find most visually poignant.

It’s worth considering that the formation is reminiscent of Guy Debord’s 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle, in which DeBord lambasts churches, political organizations and the media for their artificial glamour and prefabricated experiences. Here, we sit transfixed by a symbol with adverse connotations. So hey, if you’re looking for it, 77 Million Paintings is ripe with meaning. Otherwise, sit back and surrender to the show.

77 Million Paintings can be viewed at YMI Cultural Center, 39 S. Market St. in downtown Asheville. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. $10.

— Ursula Gullow writes about art for Mountain Xpress and her blog,

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2 thoughts on “Surrender to the spectacle

  1. Barry Summers

    Years ago, when I was a video artist, I met Nam June Paik, the father of the medium. I was helping to set up an installation of one of his works at the Chicago SOFA exhibit. Like Eno’s work here, it consisted of a dozen or so video monitors displaying swirling colors and computer-generated imagery.

    I was talking to one of my instructors about the significance of Paik’s work, when a group of Teamsters walked by (can’t build anything in Chicago without the Teamsters). The lead dude stopped and stared for a second, then his face fell into boredom & he said, “I wonder if this thing gets the Playboy Channel?” They all laughed and waddled away…

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