Arts & Culture

Ralske brings multifaceted art ideas to RISD

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010

Kurt Ralske integrates aesthetic direction, artistic curiosity, technological prowess and cunning instrumentality in his digital art — a synthesis to strive for — and the results are captivating.

Ralske, who has had a video piece permanently on display in the lobby of New York’s Museum of Modern Art since 2004, presented a sampling of his art Thursday evening at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Center for Integrative Technologies. About 50 attendees, mostly students, filled the small lecture space.

Ralske showed clips of his video works and images of his stills and spoke about the thoughts that underpinned their creations and the processes that drove them.

Many of his pieces are concerned with time and movement, and how they can be reconstructed and transferred from medium to medium. For instance, in presenting pieces from his exhibition “Zero Frames per Second,” he asked, “What are the defining qualities of cinema?… Is a film really only the sum total of its 150,000 frames?”

In his series “Motion / Stasis Extractions” (2007–2009), Ralske pursues such conundrums by manipulating feature-length films to remove the variables of narrative and duration. The series is a collection of images derived algorithmically from movies. Each piece represents the entirety of a single film, reconstructed as strips of a still image showing all the movement that takes place over the course of the film. The results are long, continuous blurs of all the frames. For these works, Ralske chose such movies as “Nosferatu,” “Superfly” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Ralske’s inquiries into time and movement and the implications of artistically warping them extend beyond the cinema. His piece “Times Square Timeshare” (2006) is a video taken from a single point of view in Times Square shown across four monitors. Ralske manipulated the footage so that every object in motion in the original video appears at rest in the piece, and everything that was originally motionless appears to move — taxis and pedestrians are frozen, but buildings drift across the screens.

During the question-and-answer session immediately following the presentation, Ralske discussed the difference between design and art. Though Ralske concretely defined many of the themes he is attentive to — such as time, movement and media reconstruction — he said he does not see his work as expressly designed for the furthering of these ideas.

Though his work tends to follow consistent inquisitive threads, he said, he recognizes a gulf between art and design, and his pursuits belong to the former.

“The difference between design and art is that design is always functional… design does something,” he said. “But art does no job. Art does the job of being art… art is mysterious… and design is never mysterious. It has to be transparent.”

He expanded on this idea when he told The Herald about his transition from musician to visual artist — Ralske was a member of the band Ultra Vivid Scene in the 1980s and ’90s.

“Music is an arena where people can express themselves very directly… but contemporary art is a very different sort of game,” he said.

“It’s not really so much about the magical hand of the artist,” he added. “It’s more about a game of ideas,” critiquing culture and “the meanings that we all share.”

Ralske accomplishes much of the media shifting and reconstruction he depends on in his art through the creation and use of special algorithms and software. He has written his own custom software, called Auvi, which he recently released as a free package for anyone interested in the sort of digital distortion he’s engaged with.

Ralske is currently a visiting professor and artist-in-residence at RISD. Derek Boyl, a graduate student in digital media at the design school, said he requested that Ralske be on his graduate committee because of the experimental nature of his work and his focus on video, as well as his “interesting” personality.

“He’s strengthening the concepts of video in our department,” Boyl said. “He’s very experimental and very engaging with students.” He added that Ralske manages to be both a full-time artist and a fully dedicated teacher.