Computers and Chaos 

Anna Ursyn

WHEN Through 2/24

WHERE Illinois Institute of Technology, Galvin Library, 35 W. 33rd, 2nd fl.

INFO 312-567-5293

Anna Ursyn's prints at the Illinois Institute of Technology--which incorporate photographic fragments and computer-generated geometrical shapes--have a complexity and suppleness unusual in computer graphics. Ursyn often repeats elements, sometimes with variations, to convey a sense of our cluttered landscapes and, as she writes, "the noise inherent to big cities." GPS (2006) shows similar images of a highway and an overpass pasted together to make a horizon, with a maze of cars and highways below. The scene is a mix of order and disorder, but the restrained tones and the blue sky above give it a gentle, open feeling characteristic of Ursyn's art.

"Order and repetition have fascinated me my whole life," says Ursyn, who was born and raised in Warsaw. "I look at nature and man-made constructions for composition and pattern and the way the space is organized." Though she continues to paint and draw, as she has since childhood, she likes the way computers can Acreate identical or distorted repetitions. She's also "intrigued by the fact that the computer is very precise and can do things that a messy person cannot." Ursyn's father, who began using computers when she was very little, once bought her a coloring book, and when she wanted to "do everything at once," she says, and "he saw how messy my work was, he insisted that I color it one page at a time." Even as a child she was interested in landscapes and urban areas alike, often drawing or painting scenes of nature and soaking up the culture of the cities her parents took her to. "Vienna and Florence were very important to me," she says. "Those are cities where you explore different layers."

Ursyn went to art school in Warsaw and got her MFA in 1983. After winning a two-year artist's grant from the Solidarity movement, she painted fields at the edges of Warsaw, which was expanding rapidly into the countryside. "People were fertilizing the ground," she says, "trying to make the soil the best for growing cabbages or corn--and then all of a sudden you have a totally different meaning for the ground." When she enrolled in another MFA program, at the University of Wyoming, in 1986, she was pleased to see on a floor plan that there was a "McIntosh room," which she assumed would be a Mac lab. She quickly discovered that it was the studio of someone named McIntosh; the art department had no computers. She arranged for time on the university's mainframe, taught herself Fortran, and began to write graphics programs, manually entering the numbers corresponding to points and lines. She had to guess at the results, which she wouldn't see for hours, but she found the gap appealing. "The beauty of programming is that it's much more unpredictable than drawing with a mouse," she says. Several works in the current show, including the completely abstract Report From Colorado, were created during that time, and the soft edges of its geometrical shapes and its remarkable depth effects create a feeling of vast space, the lines and stripes barely holding together in the face of the infinite.

Ursyn helped the University of Wyoming art department get its first Mac and entered an interdisciplinary PhD program, focusing on the integration of science and art. In 1993 she got a job teaching at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where she lives today. After she left grad school, she says, her art became less abstract and more "story based." Common Desire of Spinach Eaters (2003) is a work in seven vertical panels that includes the repeating forms of a farmer, wheeled vehicles, and ducks; she says it's about the "progression from the production of goods to their consumption." Pitch and Volume (2003) was inspired by her father, an acoustician: "It's about how sound influences our perception of a city." In it wildly diverse forms--cars, rows of keys and horns, abstract shapes made of dense lines--seem to be colliding cacophonously.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): GPS.

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