Adjusting the sliders in ‘Particle Collider’ to make the streams collide.
Walking into SPACEFILLER’s new show at Glass Box Gallery is like stepping into another universe. The artists behind the project—Alexander Nagy and Alexander Miller—went to great pains to block all outside light from coming inside the gallery, papering over the floor-to-ceiling windows, plunging the white cube into blackness.
The duo’s moniker SPACEFILLER is a reference to both their role as artists (one who fills space) and the mathematical model Conway’s Game of Life (a “spacefiller” is a pattern that wants to spread out indefinitely).
“We’re very into wonder and awe,” Nagy told me. He said their vision for this exhibition, Fantasy Parameter Spaces, was “when you step through that door, you are stepping into this computational universe we’re exploring and letting people explore.”
Being shut off from the outside world only heightens your interactions with the exhibition, composed of tactile sculptures that immerse viewers in brilliant light and sound. Visitors have the opportunity to do things like grow and quash life with the press of a button, use a glowing LED cube controller to explore different graphic and sonic environments, and play with a 3-D simulation of slime mold. And before you ask—yes, this is deliriously fun to go to if you’re stoned.
“Everything that you see and everything that you hear in the entire show—every graphic, every sound effect—is created using lines of programming code,” Miller told me. “All of our visuals are, at their core, based in math and scientific models.”
But there’s nothing pretentious about any of the pieces. You’ll be easily forgiven for not knowing that the graphics in Terminal No. 1—the result of a collaboration between SPACEFILLER, engineer Peter Whidden, Shaderpark, and Looking Glass Factory—are based off a mathematical technique called “signed distance fields.”
Instead, Miller and Nagy emphasize exploration and curiosity. Playing into themes of chaos and order, destruction and construction, there’s no preconceived end or explicit objective to their pieces. The process of interacting with the work is meditative, with the game-like nature of the pieces (buttons, knobs, controllers galore) putting the viewer firmly in control of the environment around them.
My favorite piece, Particle Collider, is nestled in a cozy corner of the gallery, and is one of their headier universes to step into. A delightful and otherworldly intersection between sight, sound, and touch, this sculpture is a simulation of (made-up) particles in SPACEFILLER’s fantasy version of physics.
The cobweb-like interactive projection is composed of “particle streams” spinning around what looks like a wheel. There are sliders on the spokes of the wheel that control the trajectories of the particle streams, and the sliders are adjustable, so you can force them to interact and collide with one another. These streams are connected to symphonic digital sounds created by Mick Marchan—think somewhere between a long electric guitar chord and a warbled radio transmission in space.
When you use a slider to connect the white outside ring to the white inside ring, the lines go all berserk, making the music you’re immersed in completely spin out. During my visit, other viewers tried desperately to keep the sounds and sights in harmony, lambasting each other for any hint of discord. I, for one, loved forcing the particle streams to interact and clash, reveling in the chaos of it all. Unlike the world outside those blackened windows, I was fully in control of my universe, a god.