The New Britain Museum of American Art is pleased to feature the newest addition to the New Media series, Blue Boar, 2010 by Victoria Bradbury. This interactive, mixed-media installation brings the viewer into the midst of a witch trial – the so-called “blue boar incident.” In 1692, 75-year-old Mary Bradbury, the artist’s 10th great-grandmother and the first “American” woman in her lineage, was convicted of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Two local men, Richard Carr and Zerubabel Endicott, accused Mrs. Bradbury of transforming herself into a blue boar while she was tending to her garden. Victoria Bradbury retells the “blue boar incident” through a sewn book narrated by vegetables, face recognition software projected onto a sculpture of a boar, and a video animation of a blue boar running through flowers.
Viewer participation is a key component of Blue Boar. When visitors step up to Bradbury’s installation, which exists in a closed-in nook in the middle of the Contemporary Gallery, they find a large book in front of them. Looking up and through the viewing hole, the viewer then sees his or her face mysteriously projected onto a sculpture of a boar. During Mary Bradbury’s trial, the artist believes that there would have been a visual inconsistency between what the Puritan audience members saw versus what they thought; in other words, they would simultaneously see an older woman being tried before their eyes and also imagine her as an actual blue boar.
The projection and the sculpted boar are meant to communicate exactly that: the audience’s dual vision. Accompanying this composite image is audible testimony which ultimately was used to condemn Mrs. Bradbury: “I saw Mrs. Bradbury go into her garden, turn the corner, and immediately there darted out of her gate a blue boar.” The artist’s symbolic retelling of the trial pushes the viewer to confront the absurdity of the circumstances and imagine him or herself in the position of both the accusers and the accused. Beyond the interactive nature of the work and its engagement with historical narratives, however, there are many other themes to uncover in Blue Boar. Of particular interest is Bradbury’s use of “new” and “old” materials to address the theme of media history.
What were the preferred modes of communication in the past? The way in which we express ourselves has transformed dramatically since 1692 when the blue boar incident “occurred.” The way information is dispersed has also changed. The “new” forms of communication demonstrated in this installation are video, projection, algorithms, codes, and digital animation. Bradbury attends to the “old” by including a sewn sampler (these samplers functioned like sketchbooks – they provided a place for women to record different sewing patterns that they could refer back to at a later date) of the voices of the vegetables that provide testimony that proved Mary Bradbury’s innocence. It is of course ironic that the only source of credible testimony comes from onions, leeks, carrots, and potatoes in Mary’s garden. The choice of a sewn sampler to present their voices was not accidental. According to Bradbury, ” In Puritan New England, a woman’s contributions to the family included the tending of a door garden and the daily upkeep of soft goods.” By alluding to these two aspects of women’s lives, Bradbury reminds the viewer of the particularities and limitations of the women’s sphere in Colonial America.
In addition to her use of the embroidered book and projection, Bradbury has included a video of a blue boar trampling over larger than life flowers. The combination of these three elements amounts to something other than “sculpture” or “painting.” Blue Boar (2010) is a hybrid work that integrates computer algorithms and codes with fibrous materials to provide a visual milieu of communicative possibilities. The combining of media has been termed “Intermedia” by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in the Something Else Newsletter in 1966. “Intermedia” applies to works that “fall conceptually between media that are already known.” Art historian, Rosalind Krauss also spoke of hybridity in her article “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” from 1979. Krauss argues that many post-1950 works of art have histories different from those of painting or sculpture with which we are more familiar. The emergence of Intermedia as an artistic practice in the 20th century seems far from accidental, and correlates directly with the constant technological fluctuations of the post-war era. Our modes of communications are no longer confined to one or two realms, but have branched off into new frontiers of electronic and social media. Through her conceptual and material choices, Victoria Bradbury acknowledges the multifaceted nature of communication today.
The theme of hybridity and media history are woven into many of Bradbury’s other works. Midway Projections (2010), for example, speaks to the way people received news in the 1900’s. Bradbury uses electronic images and a turn of the century lightbulb to project images onto a wall. In a pre-cinema, pre-television culture, someone known as a Magic Lanternist would broadcast “current” events. At times, the slides that he or she carried could be weeks, months, or years old. Bradbury’s installation combines “new” technology with an “old” method of news broadcasting to disseminate information in a new way.
The history of communication involves much more than the invention of iPhones and the digitalization of newspapers. Bradbury’s highly skilled and technical work asks viewers to consider both the changes in communication modes and the coexistence of old and new media. The artist’s choice to use a variety of media, projections, face recognition software, sewing, and book making, to name a few, classifies her work as Intermedia as well as “New Media.” New Media is an emerging field in the art world. New Media artists specialize in taking “traditional media” such as film, painting, and written word and fusing them with the interactive power of computer and other technology. Bradbury’s current position as an Assistant Professor of Electronic Art and a Fellow for the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana speaks to the growing professionalization of this art practice and the rising need for scholarship in order to trace the development of communication in our computerized contemporary society.
What has technology brought to the art world over the past decade? Do you think computer-mediated art is “art”? Will the traditional media of painting, drawing, and printmaking one day become obsolete?
Come visit Victoria Bradbury’s Blue Boar in the New Media alcove on view until January 29, 2012!
Bradbury has screened and exhibited her work at the Albright Knox and Hallwalls Galleries in Buffalo, New York, Artist Television Access in San Francisco, the Loop Festival in Barcelona, and the China International Fiber Arts Biennial in Beijing. She has designed sets for The Julliard School, Under the Table Theatre, The New York Clown Festival, and Filuren Festugen in Aarhus, Denmark. She holds an MFA in Electronic Arts from Alfred University and a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art.