By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
A moving oil painting, sacred art, an aquarium — one of these or all of these may come to mind when viewing Nick Roth’s triptych installation “Fates” at the San Diego Museum of Art, which opened on Nov. 30. The 10-minute animation created by the multimedia artist features three screens depicting the Greek fates. He also added mirrors on adjacent walls of the gallery to make the small space less claustrophobic. The addition of the mirrors in the black-painted gallery give it an aquarium-like quality, a sense bolstered by the coral snake depicted in the left-most screen. The animation is overlaid with a haunting soundtrack that combines the Kronos Quartet’s rendition of “Sun Rings: Earth Whistlers” by Terry Riley and sounds observed in space by NASA.
When Roth toured the space in late 2018 or early 2019, he noticed the gallery, located on the second floor of the museum, was surrounded by largely religious art and Renaissance paintings.
“I thought that a piece that looked very CG — computer generated — would feel a little at odds up there. I wanted a painterly look to it,” Roth explained.
While he used a vastly different medium than those historic artists and he did not want to mimic them, he wanted the transition to his work to be less jarring for patrons. After some experimentation, he settled on creating an animation that looks like, in his words, an animated oil painting. The perspective of the viewer stays the same throughout the animation, with the “painting” itself changing to show life, destiny, and death.
“I didn’t want to have the camera moving around through the space itself because I pictured it more as this is a painting that moves and you don’t move through the space,” Roth said.
Watching the animation from beginning to end is a visceral experience conjuring birth, life and death as three sets of branches emerge from the soil before transforming into more traditional portrait poses of three women. (Traditional portrait is used loosely as the head of one ripples like liquid metal, another has a giant eyeball for a head, and the third is a skeleton.) The finished product hums with meaning in each of the strange images: the autumn leaves drifting across the background could be time; the coral snake that stands in for the red threads woven then cut by the fates represent a human life; the giant eyeball stems from the myth of the three Grey Sisters sharing one eye and one tooth, figures closely tied to the fates.
However, Roth did not create the piece with such specific ideas. His goal was always to elicit feeling from the viewer, so the gut impact of an image mattered more than what it means. The feeling he most wanted to evoke was that this was a nearly spiritual experience, that the room is a sacred space just as the galleries of religious art are.
“I don’t think of it in very specific terms when I’m designing this stuff. I don’t set out with a very strong idea. I experiment with what I think will be viscerally the most effective,” he said.
He intentionally makes the giant eye of the second fate sometimes pause to stare at the observer while the much smaller eyes disconnected from the fates roam to “look at the lives of others.” While the eye bores into the viewer, the red thread spins outward, ready to be cut by the third fate. The sense of being looked at by the art rather than looking at the art lends itself to a feeling of powerlessness. It also seems like a chance to peer into a higher plane where the destiny of mere humans is spun and ultimately snipped.
“Fates” will be on display at the San Diego Museum of Art until March 1.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Culture & Cocktails
The popular-after hours event at the San Diego Museum of Art is returning on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 6-10 p.m. It is themed “Flight of Love” after the exhibit “Bouguereau & America.”
Create new memories with your loved ones as you make your own paper corsages and boutonnieres, then strike your best Cupid pose in the rose petal photobooth. Enjoy the evening’s signature drink, “Dream of Spring,” made with Suerte Tequila and nibble on waffle dessert bites by Molten Waffles, Crepes & More.
Tickets are $25 for nonmembers. This is a 21-plus event.