Bálint Bolygó makes machines that draw. The Hungarian-born, British-based artist brings his art to the United States for the first time with shows at Boston Cyberarts Gallery and Emerson College’s Huret & Spector Gallery. At Boston Cyberarts, the machines draw with styluses. At Emerson, they draw with light. But the drawings, which are at best whizzing parabolas and at worst muddy or scrawling sketches, are secondary to the machines themselves.
This is especially true at Boston Cyberarts, where snafus are forever written into the drawings made. The machines whirr and spin all the time, churning out pieces that feel more like the documents of a performance than art. The mechanisms, though, are charmingly retro. There’s nothing digital about them — no microprocessors or circuit boards. Just motors and metal.
“Trace II” features a plaster cast of Bolygó’s head set atop a rotating cylinder wrapped with drawing paper. As the cylinder spins, a probe on an armature beside it traces the shape of the head. The probe attaches to a pen below, which records the bumps and recesses of the face as it draws line over line around the cylinder.
The result, when unrolled and mounted on the wall, resembles a topographical map, with loose facial features instead of hills and plateaus. But what entices is the idea of mechanized portraiture — such a personal genre, carried out by a motor and some rods.
George Fifield, Boston Cyberarts director, calls “Polycycle I” a “Spirograph on steroids.” It takes over almost 24 feet of the gallery’s front wall. A metal armature outfitted with rotating rods with pens attached moves across it, drawing loops and swirls in red and black. Too many pen marks, and the drawing becomes a morass. But even when the marks are clear, whether they’re perfect or occasionally bouncing or jigging, the work is predictable and dull.
Yet passersby pause outside the gallery’s window, captivated by the machine’s movements. Tasking a machine with making art, Bolygó delightfully brings the notion of utility we associate with mechanics and industry to a more open-ended, metaphoric realm.
At Emerson, Bolygó deploys reflection and refraction to make fantastical light displays with lasers. Five are on view in the narrow, two-tiered gallery, and they feel confined and competitive. Show me one filling a larger space any day — the effect, with brilliant lights swirling throughout, must be phenomenal.
For “Aurora II (Bacchus),” the artist creates a chandelier-like form suspended from the ceiling with 24 plump wine glasses. A red laser pattern rotates at the center, shining through the glasses. It casts spiraling red lights on the wall, which play against the soft, swelling shadows of the glasses. In “Eclipse,” a mirror bounces ripples and twists of light in red, blue, and yellow-green over a wall. At the center the machine itself casts an imposing shadow, like that of an erector-set robot.
The machine with the subtlest visual effects is the most intriguing. “ArRay” features shape memory metal, an alloy that reverts to its original shape when heated. Bolygó divvies a light force into eight shafts that hit four metal petals below, which sets them into slow, sensuous flutters. They cast a shifting circular pattern on the floor.
The leisurely pace feels more organic than mechanical, something crafted for beauty and rhythm, not necessity and efficiency. Unlike the artist’s sweeping laser light shows, which have a throwaway beauty, “ArRay” slows you down. It rewards scrutiny. In this one case, Bolygó’s machine is not only itself art, it’s making art.
More light and shadow
More whirligigs and phantasms of light and shadow can be seen in Paul Myoda’s exhibit “Glittering Machines” at Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence. Unlike Bolygó, Myoda opts for the magical digital enhancements of microprocessors and motion sensors. As at Emerson, several smaller light sculptures feel repetitive and distract from one another.
Myoda uses aluminum and plastic to build ornate structures around LED light sources, casting wild, shimmering patterns on the wall. “Spines #2” looks like a crystallized anemone, projecting translucent spikes that, when lit up and reflected, recall pale fireworks.
These lamps turn on as you approach. “Constellation #1” features sharp little shards of reflective mylar that resemble stars; their shadows look like threatening insects. Step near, and as the piece lights up, the stars rotate above it, casting shadows that loom and dance.
Two pieces from Myoda’s “Borderline Personality Disorder” series go off almost like sirens when you move in their vicinity, with blinking lights and slender aluminum fronds on wire rods quivering as if with fear. The lights they cast are pretty spectacular — like giant, spinning, illuminated snowflakes. These works put on a big show, but you don’t want to get too close, and ultimately that turns what might be a rewarding viewing experience into a smart-alecky joke.
I couldn’t help but think of Bolygó’s quiet, nuanced “ArRay.” When working with light as a medium, it’s so tempting to go over the top. Bolygó and Myoda both, occasionally, push it too far. Sometimes less is more.
PAUL MYODA: Glittering Machines
At: Yellow Peril Gallery, 60 Valley St., Providence, through Nov. 17. 401-861-1535, www.yellowperilmedia.com/gallery