The new installation at the Greensboro Projects Space is the art piece, “Mirant Stella” by San Francisco Bay Area’s own Erich Richer “Mirant Stella” offers an astounding vantage point of worldwide exchange about humanity’s future. I attended the grand opening, hosted by Richter himself, among several attendants at the Greensboro Projects Space and The Forge. The poor weather caused by the last traces of Hurricane Matthew stymied the efforts of some who may have wanted to come. But despite the small crowd, those who were able to show were treated to a marvelous display.
To describe the piece itself, there is chain hanging down from ceiling to floor, with rectangular pipes jutting out on all sides. There are speakers of varying sizes mounted at the end of each pipe. Here is where it gets fun: guests are encouraged to respond via text message to some fairly loaded questions and statements. An example is “How will the world end?”, “The world ends with a bang.”, and “The world ends with a whimper.” The responses were sent to an engine that would translate them into random languages, even accounting for words that may not have translated or have a different cultural significance. The translations were not only vocalized across the room. Image searches of related themes to each response were projected onto a “comet” (a boulder masquerading as a disco ball). This constructed a waxing photo montage imitating a comet as it makes its journey towards our ozone layer. Growing in size and scope as it careens inbound, until it usually fizzles before most would notice it in the sky. This draws one to the conclusion that when the world comes to its end as we know it, humanity will burn loud and vibrant as we grasp for answers until we are extinguished.
Translations of text responses were adapted, let’s say, from English to Swedish, then the Swedish interpretation would be transliterated into Persian, and so on through several more randomly generated languages. By the end, like a global game of telephone, the original message is distorted when finally translated back into English. When more people input messages into the machine, amounts of translations go up, which can further alter the message
Another example of experimenting with translation is found in Richter’s earlier work “Libya on Saturday.” In said piece, a fragment of a news story originally presented in English is sent through translators, until the final product is a different message. It went from a broken off portion that had little meaning in English, to a poem telling of Libya finding peace from war when finally re-translated.
Erich Richter is known for his projects that challenge the views and creations of modern society. Outside of “Mirant Stella” and “Libya on Saturday,” Richter experiments with auditory and optical ambiance and its effect on people. He has also worked in the medium of interactive theater. He seeks to take the mundane, simple, and sometimes, meaningless and transform them into truly thought-provoking material. The question “How will the world end?” is ages old and most people don’t have a serious answer. He takes a detached approach that most take in answering the question, and gives a response as dazzling as it is daunting. Will the world eventually be snuffed out silently like a candle? Or, in a struggle for viable answers, will mankind find an answer that buys society more time? And how much more time will pass before the question becomes relevant again? Richter’s works have the potential to be loud, lighthearted, wistful, and meditative.
“Mirant Stella” is an awe-inspiring production that makes one feel both important and astonishingly small. I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting the display down at The Forge on West Lewis Street downtown. The piece is interactive, not only in the sense that patrons can interact with their cell phones, but that the art itself encourages people to touch it. When touched the pipes attached to the chain bounce back and forth and affect the sounds made by the speakers. “Mirant Stella” is a remarkable take on a timeworn question that also offers a jarring look at the intricacy of language.