Sailors Take Warning: Dina Kelberman’s Cloud Formations at Cave Gallery in Detroit

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Video Still courtesy of Dina Kelberman

Red cloud like an angry ghost hovering in a domestic sphere.

A haze of worms displacing earth or water.

These are some of my notes from my recent visit to see Dina Kelberman’s show Cloud Formations at the Cave Gallery in Detroit.  The Cave Gallery’s dark boxy space on the top floor of the Russell Industrial Center is the perfect setting for Kelberman’s work. After a three-flight climb to the gallery, I felt I had arrived in a large storage unit from a dream. In this dream several videos had been left to project on their screens for a long time, so long they had begun to talk to each other in the only language they have at their disposal: title screens. What are they saying? We cannot know because the credits have become cloud-like and their communication is purely kinetic. Though this language once belonged to us, it is no longer ours. It speaks in a blur of multi-colored clouds. The effect is arresting, and it felt almost impolite to step in front of the projectors, lest my body interrupt their mesmerizing activity.

Clouds flinching as quickly as animals.

The off-gases of a city’s cerebral energy.

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Video Still courtesy of Dina Kelberman

There are many ways to describe these clouds, but nothing feels quite accurate as it is difficult to capture the fact that these clouds are made of words. I can only tell you: these clouds are made of words, or more accurately, they are made of people’s names and titles.  When you take a bunch of credits, then screencapture each credit, then smudge the credits in photoshop, then animate the smudged series of screencaps, as Kelberman has done, they become dynamic clouds.  Looking at these videos, you can’t see all the painstaking work that goes into them, though. The clouds seem almost inevitable. And familiar. It’s as if they’ve always been a part of your life. And they have. How many title credits have you watched as you waited for the feature to begin?

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Video Still courtesy of Dina Kelberman

Yellow heat cloud above a rushing stagecoach.

Burnt-sienna storm clouds. Sailors take warning.

There is something strangely prescient about these videos. Though modest, they also seem very relevant, as if they are trying to tell us something important about our future, despite the fact that in their original lives they weren’t regarded as all that important. Perhaps they were significant to the actors and producers who they name, but we are not usually interested in these real names; we stare disinterestedly at title credits while we wait for the fiction to begin.  We only notice credits when there’s something artful about them, and these aren’t the title credits of James Bond films—the titles are centered and only make use of the “fade” transition and the backdrops include damp soil, the interior of a room, a skyline of a city, and two scenes from spaghetti westerns.

Kelberman says Cloud Formations was originally inspired by watching episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation with her boyfriend, who loves the show, and despite all the compelling futuristic imagery at hand (the alien foreheads or the intricate computer interfaces ), she became enamored with the blue color of the title credits. How many times have I watched this show and never noticed the credits?  Many.  But not only does Kelberman see more in media, she sees its potential. Kelberman screencaptured the credits and blurred the titles to make what she initial called “sirus clouds,” and this was the spark that led her to Cloud Formations.

Kelberman has an incredible knack for seeing digital information the same way a painter can see colors and shapes where the rest of us just see a face.  If you haven’t seen her hacked tumblr gallery of images titled I’m Google, then you are still surfing the web without really seeing it. One of my friends called her work “artisanal google image searching,” which is a humorously accurate way to describe the curating Kelberman has done of our most mundane online images. It makes me rethink Baudrillard’s phrase “desert of the real” because the hyperreal world of origin-less images she has arranged by associating shape and color is not desert-like at all.[1] Photos of caulked floors being prepared for carpeting give way to the lines on racketball courts which naturally lead to photos of ping pong tables. Once a ping pong ball appears, it’s only a matter of time before we arrive at egg yolks, and so on.  This is definitely not a desert, though there are some desserts: taffy pulls, cookie dough (though ironically the cookie dough photo leads to a dune buggy kicking up sand in the desert and the two images are surprisingly similar).

Aside from a follow button and a tiny i that pops up a window with few lines of info, I’m Google features no captions or titles (Kelberman is adept at hiding her hand), and the seemingly minimal human intervention also calls to mind the sense of the “hyperreal” as the inability to distinguish between human and machine.[2] Did these idiosyncratic images organize themselves? The smiling pumpkin faces look a little culpable.

A popular culture image that comes to mind for both I’m Google and Cloud Formations is from the movie I, Robot. In an important moment of the film, Will Smith visits the storage containers where all the outdated robot models are kept, and when he opens the doors, he finds that the robots have huddled together in the empty space. Kelberman’s work imbues discarded and forgotten digital images with feelings. It’s as if these images gained consciousness during the time we neglected them in the ether, and their longing for connection led them to self-organize.

But Kelberman is truly the force behind this sentience.  The immense number of hours she spends searching through images for her projects, arranging them, altering them as needed, all the while keeping her hand invisible, makes it seem like these things “just happened,” but this intense human effort is what constitutes the real soul in this work. The elegance of her finished products reminds me of the elegance of physics equations. When physicists get to the bottom of how matter works, the equations are often small and simple. Kelberman’s vision is similar—but these clouds not reveal the nature of matter; they reveal the nature of media.

 

Jennifer Metsker received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan. She also studied Painting and Drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and can be found most recently in The Seattle Review, alice blue review, Whiskey Island, and Nightblock (forthcoming). She also has had art writing featured on arthopper.com and in the UM Museum of Art magazine. She currently teaches writing at the Stamps School of Art and Design.

 

[1] Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

[2] Tiffin, John. HyperReality: Paradigm for the Third Millenium. London: Routledge, 2001.

 

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