Professor’s Sculpture Represents Austin at International Media Arts Exhibition

In a suburb just north of Paris, nine works of media art from countries across the globe line the Centre des Arts. Each contains a technological component—projections, sounds, and lights. One multimedia sculpture, “Flowering Phantasm,” stands 6 feet tall and 10 feet long and incorporates materials from around the world, including from the University of Texas at Austin.

The project is the brainchild of Clay Odom, an assistant professor in the school of architecture. It’s on display in Enghien-les-Bains as part of DATA CITY, a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) showcase displaying works of new media from cities with City of Media Arts designations in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Projects from nine cities were chosen, including Tel-Aviv, Israel; Dakar, Senegal; Sapporo, Japan; and Gwangju, South Korea. Odom’s work was selected earlier this year to represent Austin at the event. “I think it’s incredibly interesting,” Odom says. “It sets up this kind of territory that’s not purely art and not purely technology. It’s much more complex and nuanced. It deals with technology, art, and experience. It deals with the construct of all that’s within society.”

Austin is the only city in the United States bearing a UNESCO City of Media Arts designation as part of the Creative Cities Network. The network aims to bridge together cities that prioritize creativity and its role in sustainable urban development. Odom began working on Flowering Phantasm in May 2016 while exploring how light generates atmosphere and impacts people’s experiences. With the help of his design practice StudioMODO and Austin artist Sean O’Neill, he created the large installation that features thousands of feet of LED fiber, LED lights, and faceted gold panels. The frame of the hollow structure reacts to passersby—but not in a typical way. Cameras capture outside stimuli, and internal computers manipulate the video and project out a response through light and sound. “It’s interactive in a way that’s not totally discernible,” Odom says. “It exists on its own terms. It’s not an interactive project that’s like I clap my hands and it winks at me—that wasn’t the intent at all. This thing is operating on a longer time scale than humans can kind of figure out.”

Parts for the project were constructed internationally before being brought together for assembly. Odom fabricated the gold panels at the school of architecture at UT and formed the frame using controlled water jet cutting in Amsterdam. In addition to receiving support from the school of architecture labs, UT also supported the purchasing of some materials for the project, as it falls under Odom’s research: the relationship between media effects and physical objects.

DATA CITY continues until July 13, and a bilingual catalogue of the event will be published this month. The event coincides with the 11th annual meeting of the Creative Cities Network, in which representatives from each of the 116 member cities meet to discuss strategies for prioritizing creativity and cultural industries. Odom says he feels his project aligns with the theme of the event, which claims to be “a window reflecting the artistic effervescence of the media arts field, considering the city as a common denominator.” Flowering Phantasm, Odom says, urges people to question their relationship with the world around them.

“It tries to situate people so that we’re not at the center of everything,” Odom says. “What we’re a part of is a larger system that’s much more complex than we can totally figure out.”

Photos by Clay Odom


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