Inside Toni Dove: Embodied Machines at The Ringling

The survey show of the interactive artist's work promises to intrigue and involve viewers.

By Kay Kipling February 21, 2018

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Artist Toni Dove before an image from Artificial Changelings.

Image: Kay Kipling


Members of the media got a sneak peek Wednesday morning of the upcoming exhibition Toni Dove: Embodied Machines, opening at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Feb. 25.

The show is a survey of the work of Dove, a New York-based artist who’s a pioneer in the field of “interactive cinema”—pieces that blend video, sound, motion capture, narrative and live stage performances. The Ringling exhibit, organized by former curator of contemporary art at The Ringling Matthew McLendon and overseen by Christopher Jones, associate curator of photography and new media, will also feature a catalogue. The exhibit continues through May 20.

The section of the Searing Galleries devoted to Dove’s work opens first with a piece from 20 years ago, Artificial Changelings, which offers viewers the chance to step into a “time tunnel,” interacting up closely with moving imagery of an actress in a story about a kleptomaniac in 19th-century Paris and a 21st-century hacker. Dove, on hand for the preview, demonstrated how one can “direct” the movements of the onscreen figure with a few twists and turns of the arms, “turning everyone into a performer,” as she says. It looked a bit like conducting—very loosely—an orchestra.

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A somewhat ghostly image from Artificial Changelings.

Image: Kay Kipling


Props, costumes and sketches for that work, as well as Spectropia, the next piece on view, help to follow the process Dove uses in creating her art. (IPads stationed in the different galleries also permit viewers to watch more of the artistic process individually.) Spectropia is also a bit of a time travel piece, taking place during the economic hard times of the 1930s. Another work, Lucid Possession, tells the story of a young woman programmer who creates an avatar that goes live on the internet, making her something of an instant celebrity.

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Props on view in the Searing Galleries

Image: Kay Kipling


A fourth piece, The Dress That Eats Souls, is a premiere for the Ringling show, covering, Dove says, “200 years of the human body’s intimate relationship to technology,” as the “woman” on view (Dove suggests thinking of her as something of an extraterrestrial) incorporates in her figure all the people who have worn the dress, which is complete with a 14-foot skirt. Again, slight arm and head movements by the viewer control, to some extent, the narrative and movements here, meaning that every viewer will have a different experience, and any museumgoer can also have multiple experiences on different visits.

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Dove interacting with The Dress That Eats Souls.

Image: Kay Kipling

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Information about the new Dove work, The Dress That Eats Souls, greets the viewer.

Image: Kay Kipling


Live performances of Spectropia (March 9) and Lucid Possession (April 13 and 14) will take place during the show’s run (in The Ringling courtyard and the Historic Asolo Theater, respectively.) Check out for more details and tickets.

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