Art

Art in the Machine

Artist Maralie Armstrong-Rial displays challenging works

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With the arrival of the new year comes thoughts of a long winter ahead and... well, since we’re already getting ahead of ourselves, why not leap forward to a particularly bright spot on the season’s calendar?

Pursuing its commitment to provocative new voices and visions in contemporary art, Yellow Peril Gallery will resume its invaluable COLLECT ART series of exhibitions with a January show devoted to Maralie Armstrong-Rial. This multimedia artist and performer is an increasingly vivid presence on the contemporary art scene, her riotously cross-disciplinary work revealing a distinct aesthetic ferocity and incisive intelligence.

A graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and RISD’s Digital + Media MFA program, Armstrong-Rial incorporates sculpture, installation and experimental music into work that interrogates and elucidates our technology-mediated culture and challenges norms of gender and identity. Audacious in both conception and delivery, her videos and performances conjure and confront us with our own unexamined assumptions and shake loose the contents of our shared social unconscious.

In her MFA thesis Engendered Machines and Humanbeasts, Armstrong-Rial drew on the early-20th century sound work of Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, a German-born artist and poet who worked across creative categories and defied all manner of sexual and social conventions. Constituting what Armstrong-Rial describes as a “short history of human-machine interaction,” Engendered Machines delineated what has since become [throughout her work] an essential theme: namely, the pervasiveness of technology and its implications in terms of the conception and expression of self.

Within her fascinating and ever-evolving creative practice, Armstrong-Rial’s performances as the vocalist for Humanbeast are especially compelling distillations of her genre-bending sensibility. Humanbeast, an experimental music/sound collaboration between Armstrong-Rial and Eli V. Manuscript, integrates synths, electronic noise and heavy beats into bracing, utterly mesmerizing sonic mash-ups. The pair’s live performances are often full-on sensory assaults: Visceral, relentless, raw, they conjure a sense of both psychic torment and physical release. Humanbeast’s Queer Marriage (Gross Domestic Product, 2010) is perhaps its most “musical” project to date, a disc whose series of 10 tracks are discernibly song-like. Yet the artists’ sound remains, as ever, resolutely abrasive and mysteriously hypnotic, a sonic incarnation of an unforgiving emotional landscape.

Yellow Peril’s January show, which will include live performances and recent works on paper, should serve as an exciting update on (or, depending on the viewer, introduction to) Armstrong-Rial’s shape-shifting creative endeavors. By giving its space over to this singular artist, Yellow Peril spotlights a riveting, resonant body of work.

Opens January 18 at Yellow Peril Gallery at The Plant, Olneyville, 60 Valley Street #5.