It takes a long time to bring a new museum exhibition to fruition. Just ask Matthew McLendon, formerly of The Ringling and now director of the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, about the show Toni Dove: Embodied Machines, which he’s curating here and which will be on view Feb. 25 through May 20.
“I’ve been trying to figure out when I first became acquainted with Toni’s works,” he says. “You just kind of know her, because her work is so foundational to artists working this way [in the field of interactive live performance/visual narrative]. But I really got to know her when she came to Sarasota for an event at the Luke DuBois show [in 2014]. We hit it off, and I did a studio visit with her in New York. I realized that no museum had done an in-depth exhibition of her body of work, and I found that curious.”
So he began planning such a show for The Ringling, nearly four years ago. And McLendon says it’s been a “long, wonderful process.”
“While many artists use technology today, they’re usually adapting what currently exists,” says McLendon. “But Toni has a vision, then she has to push the technology forward to match her vision. She works with experts around the world—programmers, robotic engineers, filmmakers—to encourage them to create new methods and apparatus.”
The results can range from Artificial Changelings (from 1998), a time travel installation in which a kleptomaniac in 19th-century Paris dreams of a 21st-century hacker, to Lucid Possession (2013), a musical thriller that unfolds with live music and robotic projection screens from the point of view of a programmer, her avatar and their real and virtual community of fans. “Themes that run through the work include our relationship to technology, when we integrate it into our physical space, and dealing with issues arising from that,” says McLendon. “Often, Toni blends sci-fi and noir with her artistic aesthetic.”
In addition to works from past years, Dove will debut a new piece in the show, The Dress That Eats Souls. It’s a large sculptural installation, combining robotics and projection scrims in a way that allows the dress to respond to viewers’ body movements as they’re watching decades of film unfold. There will also be live performances during the exhibition’s run, on March 9 and April 13 and 14.
That means “levels of interaction between the audience and Toni as she performs onstage,” says McLendon. “I’ve only experienced that through video myself, so I’m excited to get the feel of the live performance.”
McLendon makes a comparison between The Ringling’s famed Rubens pieces and the thriving artists’ workshop that Rubens oversaw when he says of Dove, “She’s the 21st-century workshop, the think tank. Everyone runs to come when Toni calls, because you know you’re going to have this whole new experience. I’m just so consistently amazed at the level and breadth of her knowledge.”
Toni Dove: Embodied Machines and its affiliated programs are part of The Ringling’s Art of Our Time initiative. To learn more, visit ringling.org.