Training Setting, 2018

Nancy Toomey Fine Art
Nancy Toomey Fine Art
San Francisco, CA
February 24 - April 17, 2018

Featured in Interface Critique Journal, Vol. 1 (2018)

Training Setting follows the debut of a collaboration between Maria Park and Branden Hookway at Cornell University in Fall 2017 that presented work using a diagrammatic language of flight cockpits and table settings to investigate the social and control protocols that underlie contemporary interfaces. To train within a technologized environment is to mediate formal and informal instruction -- where a formal understanding of information and procedure coexists with an informal understanding gained through embodied action. In this sense, training is inherently an orientation toward both the actual and the virtual, as performance draws upon tacit knowledge according to formalized protocols. This exhibition is a further exploration on the language of flight instrumentation and display.

Central to both exhibitions is Training Setting, an installation of 26 shaped paintings which depicts parts of a cockpit along with a contemporary airfield as seen through the windscreen of a grounded B-29. The iconic bomber of WW2 and the start of the Cold War, the B-29 heralded a new era of globalization in which territory would increasingly be defined by targeting. The windscreen is rendered as a diagram that cuts through both an interior and exterior view, circumscribing a visual manifold encompassing flight instrumentation, ground equipment and crew, airfield and landscape. The curvature of the horizon across the peripheral field frames an oculus with an inactive Norden bombsight at its center. The work describes an environment alive with interconnected protocols, from attitude displays to taxi patterns, but also neutralized: a view of the twenty-first century from the perspective of a decommissioned twentieth century plane. The paintings are reverse-painted on transparent sheets of Plexiglas and mounted on plywood panels. Encased between wood and Plexiglas, the images occupy a space between painting and diagram, where they are interrupted continuously across the visual field.

136 is a wall-mounted sculpture based on an exterior view of the Enola Gay's windscreen. The reflective black Plexiglas surface acts as a mirror to our participation in the narrativization of history with its opacity suggesting the impossibility of either idealizing this history or separating out its place in the lineage of contemporary techniques of picturing the world through satellite imagery and global communication. Instruction 1-4, reveal the subtle variations in the cuts that are hidden in the layers that comprise 136.

Artificial Horizon 1 and 2 refer to the flight instrument, also called an attitude indicator, which displays the pitch and bank of the aircraft and so its orientation to the ground-critical information when a pilot loses sight of the horizon. Studies in Calibration, a wall-mounted sculpture of layered Plexiglas and wood, refers to a continuous process of orientation, whether as a pilot reading a technological display or as a viewer processing at an abstract work of art.

Park's Imprint 3 displays alphanumeric characters set in the OCR-A font, which arose in the early days of computer optical character recognition when there was a need for a font that could be recognized by both computers and humans. Each letter is reverse painted in different shades of black mimicking the matter-of-factness of an alphabet chart. This, combined with the shift in scale, plays on the recognizability of the font whose usage remains widespread in the encoding of checks, another technology destined for obsolescence. Stack (also by Park), which depicts a stack of sliced bread, refers to both data structures and to layering as an analog to the sedimentation of tacit knowledge and formal instruction. This language is carried throughout this exhibition with the stacking of plywood, Plexiglas, and high-density EPS. PET is a reverse-painted depiction of the first all-in-one home computer, PET 2001, which came out in 1977. Its form stands in contrast to the Norden bombsight, revealing how the transfer of military technologies to domestic use is often concealed by design.

While the vernacular of diagrams found in manuals and instructional guides delimit a set of conditions and actions, their reconfiguration here addresses how the systems of control that underlie formal diagrams are propagated through everyday life. Just as flight instruments are means of reconciling the subjective experience of flight to a reality that might contradict it, the exhibition seeks to bring a heightened awareness of controlled environments and to mediate the tension between structured information and intuitive decisions.

Selected Images