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Review: Whatever the weather, come to CAM for autumn leaves and spring foliage

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: After an autumn day drive to spot the brilliant colors of leaves along the Great River Road, head back to St. Louis to see an amped up nature projected into the night sky against the large exterior wall of the Contemporary Art Museum.

Jennifer Steinkamp’s projection, Orbit 11, is not complicated or challenging. It bares no overt message. But it is quite lovely. Computer animated graphics of luscious plant life are seen through a bug’s eye-view. Wiry vines of green leaves change to brown, flower and shift again, the gleaming tendrils constantly swirling in motion, slow enough to hypnotize.

Steinkamp uses the concrete and metal museum façade as a canvas upon which she projects the colossal landscape of spiraling green shoots and sprays of pink and purple blossom.

Steinkamp is like so many visionary artists who used the technological innovations of their time to pioneer new artistic techniques. Renaissance artists adopted oil-based paints to give their colors increased brilliance and translucence and one point linear perspective to create an illusion of depth. French impressionists made use of newly available tin paint tubes to allow painting en plein air.

Steinkamp uses computer animation programming to create a visual magical realism in which the cold, urban, built environment transforms into a fantastical garden. Steinkamp has described her projections as an effort to “dematerialize architecture by combining light, space and movement.” Experiencing that transformation of space is like a corporeal visit to second life.