Electrical Folklore

[Image: Barry Underwood, courtesy of Johansson Projects].

The Johansson Projects gallery over in Oakland is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Barry Underwood, called Earth Engines; the show also includes a series of sound installations by artist Oliver diCicco.

[Image: Barry Underwood, courtesy of Johansson Projects].

On the one hand, Underwood’s photos document an obvious artistic intervention into the landscape, in the form of embedded and highly colorful light sources smuggled into unlikely situations; but, on the other, these images imply that Underwood has, in fact, captured a previously unrecorded natural phenomenon, an unidentified electrical presence in the trees. In other words, like some battery-powered variation on “Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft, these earth engines could, under the right circumstances, perhaps even be naturally occurring: glowing piles of uranium, say, or strange new bioluminescent creatures, unknown to science till now.

[Images: Barry Underwood, courtesy of Johansson Projects].

The juxtapositions of spectacular landforms and immersive, forested environments with these subtle networks of lighting effects—and the accompanying idea that there might be a power source shining away somewhere deep within the natural world—even brings to mind Archigram’s design for a deep-woods electrical outlet disguised inside an artificial log.

Of course, I’m also reminded of an old Paul Simon song: These are the days of lasers in the jungle.

[Image: Barry Underwood, courtesy of Johansson Projects].

So is it a Will-o’-the-Wisp or stray camper’s light? A radioactive spill or an art project?

Produce a catalog of these sorts of strange lights seen in the woods, throughout history, and you’ve got a new field of study: electrical folklore.

[Image: Barry Underwood, courtesy of Johansson Projects].

In any case, the show opens up this weekend, on November 21; stop by the gallery’s website for more details.

5 thoughts on “Electrical Folklore”

  1. Tokihiro Sato anyone? Something about the time component of the long exposure in Sato's work is way more interesting to me.

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