The Department of Visual Arts hosted an artist talk by Washington D.C. based artist, Brandon Morse, last Wednesday. This was Morse’s first visit to UMBC, but he has been teaching at College Park for 17 years.
Although Morse works primarily with digital media and code, he received his Bachelor of Arts in painting and drawing. His interest is in generative systems, where a part or whole of work is created through the use of autonomous systems. Morse emphasized his interest in simulation and chance.
His preferred systems are entropy, which he defines as “the decline into disorder,” and emergence, when patterns and regularities arise through interactions among smaller parts (a school of fish, for example). All of the pieces shown to the audience were videos displayed on a projector in the front of the room. In a gallery setting, Morse said that the pieces were best shown projected onto a wall from floor to ceiling.
“I layer random synthesizers in GarageBand,” Morse answered when asked about the unique sounds that were present in each video. In one case, he said that he slowed down a few country songs and played them over top of each other, resulting in a somewhat ambient, somewhat unsettling atmosphere.
The purpose of sound in Morse’s work is to create a pace for the movements, although it seemed to be a nuisance to both the artist and the audience. The subject matter of most of Morse’s earlier work was geometric, architectural structures collapsing in on themselves. This is true for “Achilles, The Brownian Motion of Collective Woe’ and ‘Exit Strategy.’
These three pieces were created between 2005 and 2009, which accounts for the rigid structures on which Morse’s work was centered. He said that the financial crisis as well as the push-and-pull of the political climate influenced him to create videos of collapsing structures that appeared to fall indefinitely.
Morse’s work is primarily time-based, with most pieces being somewhere between ten and twenty minutes long. The most fascinating of Morse’s architectural based pieces is “Exit Strategy” (2009), in which tall financial skyscrapers in a minimalist city inflate like balloons for the first ten minutes, then float away and vanish in the last five.
After this series of architectural based pieces, Morse moved into a discussion of his more recent work. His first code based piece, ‘A Charged Shape’ (2010) was an attempt to be more interactive with the viewer. It is organic, with little circular pieces floating in negative space, then gaining momentum and moving together.
Morse’s intention with this work was for the audience to perceive the little round shapes to be “shooting at you.” He explained that one of his eyes was weaker than the other, which altered his notion of dimensionality and concreteness.
Similarly, “High Pressure System” (2011) and “The Deep Random” (2012) carried Morse’s interest in emergence. In both of these works, smaller pieces were shown coming together to form random shapes. “The Deep Random” bore a striking resemblance to footage of a pink sea anemone. The movement and entropy in this work created a fantastic sense of depth.
Most of the work Morse presented was in grey-scale, with either white negative space or black negative space. He explained that he wanted to prevent audiences from interpreting color as having any meaningful value. On an off note, the artist mentioned that he had trouble adding color to his digital pieces.
By far his most colorful piece, “Giving Up the Ghost” (2015) was created using found images of sunsets from Google images. Here, little rocket shapes exploded downwards into red claw-like patterns.
Morse’s most recent work is “In This Convex Hull” (2016), a sphere-themed piece designed for and displayed in the dome of the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington, VA. More of his work can be found in his online portfolio, at http://coplanar.org.