In June, the Microsoft Garage Gallery opened its virtual doors to an inaugural exhibit intended to uplift the spirits of attendees. The Garage is Microsoft’s experimental R&D facility in Lower Manhattan, and the gallery is an extension of its work. In partnership with the cultural agency Hatchers, they brought six pioneering, multidisciplinary artists—Sadie Clayton, Uttam Grandhi, Beatie Wolfe, Stuart Semple, JGoldcrown and Maria Kozak—together for the immersive experience, aptly entitled Spirit of Being. Each artist has embraced technology as a fundamental component in their practice, but in the easy-to-navigate exhibit (which can be viewed on desktop, mobile or even through a VR headset) a sense of whimsy and wonder connects the works.
Kozak, a painter and exploratory new media artist, populates a digital room of her own with three distinct works. Hers is a space of moments that pass from tactile transformations to interpretive internet history to all-out hilarity. Curator Heather Falconer originally brought Kozak in to contribute work to an in-person exhibition for which she was planning to introduce a virtual reality work.
As conversations and gallery opening plans shifted to the virtual realm amidst the pandemic, Kozak’s desires changed. “We are dealing with this accelerated digitization of our lives,” she tells us. “I moved to Upstate New York from the city as I was working in VR, and I was involved in NEW INC at the New Museum, and I was really immersed in technology. When I got upstate, I started painting more and I shunned the digital world for a while. I even avoided Zoom.”
She ruminated on her personal style and artistic desires, and the more she painted, the more she felt a pull back to the digital sector. In many ways, this is the origin of “Primordial Soup” (2020), a real life large-scale painting that was digitally installed into this exhibition. It bears many of Kozak’s trademarks: chaos with intention, looming darkness, unearthed optimism. “I have been thinking a lot about our evolution from an agricultural society to an industrial one and now a technological one,” she tells us of her vision.
Kozak’s “Bucolic Terrains” (2020) may appear to hang within an online viewing room, but approaching the work means transporting into a different domain altogether—it’s a fully interactive immersion into the world in which the art was imagined. “It’s a scrolling timeline of our experience with computers, from gaming to junk folders to Solitaire and Deluxe Paint,” Kozak explains. Animations are activated. Pathways are provided.
In fact, this work represents the potential of online viewing, where the art is as much as a choose-your-own experience as it is the sensory splendors provided by an artist. Yiting Liu developed the website within the piece and Darshan Jesrani contributed the music, both of which are fundamental to the world. “I think that the digital is human,” Kozak says of the work. “It’s an evolution of our energy. It’s just as natural as the trees and leaves and electricity.”
For her third work, “DanceLife” (2020), a multi-media collaboration with Jared Hoffman (from their THIRD_LIFE series) which also contains a soundtrack by Jesrani, Kozak utilized the motion capture capabilities of the Microsoft Kinect to scan people and set kitten videos within their silhouettes and soothing pastels as their backdrop. The video (produced in an edition of 10) runs for three and a half minutes, and calls to mind meme culture while nodding to the fact that people might truly be their most free when they’re dancing.
In addition to the gallery, The Garage provides internships and opportunities for gamers and hackers, customers and employees. It’s very much an ecosystem of talent for Microsoft. And Kozak, as one of the first to build a world within their world, demonstrates just how much imagination goes into it all.
Hero image courtesy of Maria Kozak