Video art goes public

Alberto Robles isn’t your average professor.

Sitting on a curb Friday in one of D.C.’s liveliest neighborhoods with a cigar and a broken projector in hand, Robles, a linguistics professor by day and video artist by night, is still optimistic about the night ahead.

“I love languages. I speak French, English, Italian, Spanish, and video is another language,” Robles said of video art – his favorite art medium.

Robles created his own genre of video art, known as video poetry, to emphasize his love of linguistics. His exhibit, “Present Interval/Intervalo en el Presente,” is a public video art piece featuring three projected video clips on the walls of the Adams Morgan SunTrust Bank.

Coming from a series of public art projects entitled “Circling the Issue,” the exhibit is meant to reflect the inner life of the average person as he or she goes through a daily routine. At the opening reception, curious passersby wandered in and out of the alleyway. The intent of Robles’ exhibit was to create a museum environment without walls.

From 18th Street, the first projection featured an underwater view of boats and swimmers set to calming, classical music. Quickly changing frames set against dual screens created a sense of tranquility. Titled “Piso Mojado,” or “Wet Floor,” the projection made a statement about global warming.

The next video was more cheerful, featuring a rose-colored screen that physically moved up and down with the image of an opening elevator. “Tequila” by The Champs played as the phrases “Expiacion” – Spanish for atonement – and “I always return to the original question: Where do I go now?” projected across the screen.

The final projection was meant to be a compilation of short stories and points from Robles’ entire exhibition.

Robles has received a good deal of attention for his works and also received funds from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ City Arts Projects fund. Robles is a former DCCAH Media Artist Fellow. The “Present Interval/Intervalo en el Presente” project has been almost two years in the making.

Robles intended originally for the piece to be installed on the curved walls of the Dupont Circle Metro station, but the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority turned the project down.

“They don’t like electronic art,” Robles said. “They must believe Van Gogh’s still alive.”

Another challenge Robles faced was working with the medium of electronic public art. While the third projector in the exhibit wasn’t functioning for the opening night of the installation, Robles hoped to get it running for the next day’s exhibit.

“With public electronic art, many things can happen with machines and electricity,” he said.

Each individual video piece was displayed on a series of mirrors running on a slow-moving motor back and forth. Joseph Kinnard, the technical advisor for the project, developed the system for the exhibition.

“The entire system is temporary. It’s only made to last two nights,” Kinnard said.

Reflecting on the idea of his exhibit, Robles said he believes in the universal concept of public art.

“There are a lot of opportunities to create public art because it’s for everyone,” Robles said. “Anybody can enjoy public art. It’s on the street – part of daily life.”

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