It looks like something from another era. Hastily conjoined wooden planks form a frame for a variety of metal slats, rotating coils, cylinders, pedals and cranks. It’s a challenge to resist the desire to turn or pull each structure, and that’s the intent of creator Jamie Banes.
“I find a lot of work to be sort of cold and hard to relate to personally,” says the recent art school graduate, whose current show is at the Sierra Arts Gallery in the Riverside Artists’ Lofts. “By trying to invite people to operate the work, hopefully their role in the conversation is increased.”
In what he calls a “synthesis of blue-collar and medical imagery,” Banes attempts to combine what might otherwise be exclusive subject matter, reserved for medical experts and the like, with more mundane, operational devices. By encouraging participation from the audience, he hopes the idea behind the combination of the complex with the simple will be easier to grasp.
The work is, in fact, quite literally easy to grasp, as nearly every installation provides a handlebar or crank for the viewer to operate. In “Corporeal #5,” a hand crank is connected to two cylinders, which rotate to make a model of a human joint bend and flex through a metal track. As the crank turns, a loud clanking sound and the unmistakable smell of oil ensue. It’s not unlike standing in a mechanic’s shop, listening to the ambient noise and the sensations of physical labor being carried out.
Any esoteric themes already inherent to the work are quickly drowned out by noise, smell and motion, leaving the viewer to first deal with the immediate sensory experience and the logical workings of all the kinetic machinery that fills the gallery space.
“It’s tough to think about how this work does relate to me, the viewer, and how I should relate to it,” Banes explains. “I want the viewer to take away a different environment from the normal, formal exhibition space that they would see.”
That different environment proves a more accessible, hands-on atmosphere, not unlike something you’d experience at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s children’s science museum.
“Corporeal #3,” a large centerpiece, involves the viewer in the act of pedaling, revolving a bike chain around a wheel, sequentially spinning a giant screw. As translucent CAT scans race past a light bulb at one end of the machine, a participant can look through a viewfinder at the moving images, animated as they pass in and out of frame.
Banes’ giant zoetrope, which might be a curiously entertaining machine for some, is a reasonable combination when considering his past and present lines of work: surgical technician and construction worker, respectively.
“I didn’t really set out to do that, it just ended up like that,” says Banes of his present artistic endeavors.
But the cause-effect relationship is clear, and Banes feels comfortable, excited and natural producing the art he does, an appropriate response considering he wants his audience to feel natural with it, a part of it, as well.
“I found a lot of people are afraid to touch it, but other people are just ready to jump right in—they understand right away that they can do that!”
Banes’ work is Art without the capital "A."