Vessel Gallery presents Color Rx: Humanoid


For the past three weekends in February, Color Rx (a summer research project turned campus-wide hot spot, and even pop up feature at the Rainbow Unicorn Gallery in Berlin, Germany) has been up, available, and poppin' at Vessel Gallery on 6 Linden St. 

Vessel Gallery at Harvard University is housed in Linden Street Studios in Cambridge. As an exhibition/film-screening/gathering space, it hosts works by artists from the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and talents of the undergraduate community.

For this iteration of Color Rx, I sought to ~unveil the algorithm~. How so? By involving human helpers to run through the motions of the algorithm, enacting moments like string parsing and keyword identifying, two integral parts of the computer algorithm used in the first showing of Color Rx in the Harvard Art Museums. 

This pop-up installation was set up to mirror a doctor's appointment - well, a painless one at that. Visitors were invited to book appointments online in advance, and head to the space during open hours on a given Saturday. Upon entering the gallery and viewing the static installation upstairs, visitors descended the back steps into a dimly lit, white room, meant to reflect the emptiness and sterility of a computer's "brain." 

Courtesy of Essa Lucienne

Courtesy of Essa Lucienne

Courtesy of Essa Lucienne

Courtesy of Essa Lucienne

As visitors approached the "receptionist," they were asked to write down how they were feeling in a sentence. This sentiment was then transcribed onto separate post its, allowing the second helper to manually "parse the string" in order to detect salient words that would reflect the sentiment of the sentence. Words like nervous, stressed, and excited were some of the more popular sentiments elicited, though the inputs varied. 

With the words the second helper selected, I tried to prescribe colors that I felt would best supplement the visitor's mood. Upon deciding the hue for you, the space lit up in that color (as if reflecting an aha moment by Bluetooth magic), and I hand delivered a paint chip prescription. 

In the words of the Artist Statement: 

Color is ephemeral and complex. Color Rx contends with the individuality of perception, while maintaining that the experiences in which perceptions are grounded can be traced back to, and tethered together by, a common, colorful trend. Drawing inspiration from previous iterations of the project, scholarly texts, and the artist’s knowledge and intuition, the piece explores lines between truth and belief, color and illusion. And yet its prescriptions, unconventional and mysterious though they may be, make connections and produce impacts in the world.

Color Rx: humanoid simulates the computer algorithm originally used to diagnose a viewer’s inputs and “prescribe a color” in response. The piece is grounded in questions about trust in, or benefit from, “smart” systems, often in contexts where the algorithms are opaque – even when the output is very concrete. What does it mean for machines or systems to drive our behavior?Can we adequately assess the benefits and risks?  

The major takeaway from this pop-up installation? Colors lift spirits, and people are very game to buy into an experiential gimmick in today's digital/instagrammable age.

Special thanks to Essa Lucienne, the beautiful brains behind Vessel Gallery, and to my four helpers Caroline, Annie, Russell, and Kyle, for helping me to manifest this artistic vision.

Xx, Maia