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Art Exhibit Interrogates Digital Life With 'Artifacts From Imagined Futures'

Kevin Clancy grew up in the time before everyone had cell phones – back when a dial-up connection at his mom’s office was his lone internet access.

"Utopia or Oblivion" opens with a reception 5-8 p.m. Thu., Oct. 10, and runs through Nov. 29. 5106 Penn Ave., Garfield

Clancy, 31, is now an interdisciplinary artist with an interest in the ways now-ubiquitous digital technology is changing how we think and feel. His latest work explores the topic in “Utopia or Oblivion,” a solo site-specific installation at Bunker Projects.

Situated in Bunker's two-room walk-up gallery, the show looks a bit like a retail display of Clancy’s assemblages combining hand-made objects with repurposed digital accessories, from phones to cables. “A little of it is, too, is like a speculative museum of natural history from the future,” said Clancy. “Whether that’s an apocalyptic future or a bright and radiant future is a little up to the speculation of who’s viewing it.”

Clancy’s work has been exhibited locally at the Mattress Factory and The Andy Warhol Museum, in galleries around the U.S., and as far afield as Johannesburg, South Africa. The installation at Bunker (located on Penn Avenue, in Garfield) incorporates colored lights, window film to tint daylight, and an original electronic soundscape by John Also Bennett. But the focus is on Clancy’s 3D works, some of which he calls “combines” in a nod to a key influence of his, Robert Rauschenberg. (Some of the elements have been repurposed from earlier shows of his.)

Several installation elements incorporate plaster-cast hands. One, titled “Closer Together Farther Apart,” positions two hands on either side of a transparent sheet of plastic, trying to touch each other. Casts of infant hands (actually a doll’s) lay on a smartphone screen.

Installation view of a earlier incarnation of Clancy's work.

“There will be a lot of these elements mixed with hands that are intertwining and fingers that are touching and intertwining — kind of an exploration of connection, and the way that we are connected through technology, and the way we are separated by technology,” said Clancy.

Several pieces are mounted on wall-hung metal grids, like those you’d find in retail displays. But what’s “for sale,” in a couple cases, are plaster casts of human faces, some studded with pins, most densely around the lips, nose and eyes. The reference is to facial-recognition software. Clancy notes the growing use of such technology, especially in China, where its uses include identifying political protesters. The internet itself, he added, was first developed by the U.S. military.

One piece mounted on a grid is a mat woven of white Ethernet cables. During Clancy’s in-progress installation of the work, the mat hung alongside a pair of zip-tie-like riot handcuffs, bent into a computer-keyboard “command” symbol.

“Utopia or Oblivion,” Clancy said, “is about that interfacing between our body and our technology, our screens, our devices, and just how that line is blurring more and more over time.”

Funding for “Utopia or Oblivion” was provided by Investing in Professional Artist Grants Program, a partnership of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Foundation.

The exhibit opens Thursday at Bunker with a reception from 5-8 p.m. It runs through Nov. 29.