1. Visual Arts

University of Tampa's electronics gallery show worth your time

A still from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, 2012.
A still from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, 2012.
Published Feb. 18, 2013


Only a few days remain for "Electronics Alive VII" at University of Tampa's Scarfone/Hartley Gallery, so get yourselves there to see this exuberant show before it ends on Feb. 23.

In it are 27 short films (ranging from a few to about 15 minutes each) and 16 multimedia and digital works that could keep a family entertained and art lovers engaged for several hours.

Several have won Academy Awards for Best Animated Short, including the 2012 winner and my favorite in the exhibition, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. It's a paean to the joys of books. Morris, the protagonist, is a solitary young man who constantly reads on his balcony until a storm blows through his town, tearing the letters from their pages and sending Morris flying through the air. When he lands, his books are blank and his colorful world has gone gray (a homage to and reversal of the Wizard of Oz). He wanders around bereft until he encounters a group of flying books and one leads him to an old library, abandoned and in disrepair. Color returns as he is able to read again and teaches himself how to mend the damaged bindings.

The rest of the film follows Morris through old age with his beloved books and he gives and receives in sharing them with others. I admit that the ending left me teary-eyed. Parents might know this story as a children's book, created after the success of the film. For all of the book's charm, the film, which runs about 16 minutes, is better with its astonishing animation and special effects.

Another Oscar winner, in 2011, is Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing, which appeared first as a children's book, then became a film produced by Andrew Ruehemann. It, too, is a bittersweet fable, beautifully animated.

I loved the mockumentary, The Centrifuge Brain Project, in which a seemingly rational scientist reveals his delusions as he describes his life's work, which is to determine the effects of a centrifuge on a person's learning curve. Creator Till Nowak uses footage of thrill rides and adds computer-generated additions to them that create bizarre aberrations. Dr. Laslowicz, played by Leslie Barany, explains his deadly experiments in modifying the rides with deadpan earnestness. On one, for example, we see chairs lift normally, then (via computer modifications) careen into the air at a 180-degree angle and float upside down. "The difficulty," he explains, "was stopping the rotation without the chairs crashing." Which they did.

This is an art show, not a multiplex, and though many works are delightful, all are thought-provoking and some are more appropriate for adults only rather than families. That said, Damian Nenow's Paths of Hate is riveting and will appeal especially to fans of graphic novels from which the film borrows its visual style. Its story is of a fight to the death — and beyond — between two pilots manning planes of World War II vintage. Done in gray tones, it follows their zigs, zags and feints above a snowy landscape. The color red is introduced as both men are wounded, mortally as it turns out, and the conflict becomes more obsessive.

The show also has a lot of compelling non-film art. German artist Philipp Engelhardt found an old photo album in a junk pile in a nearby neighborhood, Hildapromenade 4, which he took as the name of the work he created using the album. While he knew nothing about the woman who is featured in it and is presumably dead, he saw a narrative quality to the photos' progression. Using a computer, he removed her from the actual photos, then created a projection of her moving in and out of them in a ghostly version. The viewer participates in the changing narrative by turning the pages.

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This is a show with international talent with a few artists who are based here. Santiago Echeverry is Colombian and a professor of electronic media at the University of Tampa who created three self-portraits that take Chuck Close's grids toward the 22nd century.

"Electronics Alive VII" is a biannual show so it has a 14-year history. I have not seen all of them, but of those I have seen, this one is the most vibrant and interesting. It will fascinate those unschooled in whiz-bang technology as much as those who are.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.


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