Published January 27, 2006
Modified January 28, 2006

Art that tells tales

*Exhibit at UC Irvine Beall Center combines art, technology and game theory to show how human ego can get in the way of truth.

In a spartan, darkened room where the focal points are talking heads on television, two live people are explaining the concepts behind their exhibition.

They begin by telling the story of how they met while enrolled in a graduate program in Sweden, and how they joined forces to execute the project.

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Storytelling inherently involves subjectivity, and narratives are explained and understood differently each time a conversation takes place, the two explain.

"It's impossible to know the truth, because the human ego gets in the way," said Sue Huang, one of the artists.

"The stories that they [the television subjects] tell are unstable. They are evolving as time goes on," said Brian House, the other principal player in the project.

Which leads to the question: How can one trust what these two are saying right now? If they explained their mission 10 minutes later, would the message be different?

Those are some of the questions at the core of "5 'til 12," the exhibition that runs through mid-March at the Beall Center for Art and Technology at UC Irvine, a space dedicated to showing new relationships between technology, arts and sciences.

House and Huang are collectively known as knifeandfork. She is going for a master's degree at UCLA and he works for a start-up company in New York. Both said they are adept computer programmers.

When visitors begin their tour, they receive a blank memory card that tracks the tales they hear. In any order, people watch four characters on four monitors as they recall the unforeseen circumstances of the exhibition's opening night.

The scripts are written by the actors who appear on monitors, but no two people hear the same story. That's because the artists have put to use a radio frequency identification technology -- called RFID -- that often is used to track store merchandise.

"There are eight computers churning away in the back room," House said.

The premise, according to House and Huang, is derived from Akira Kurosawa's film "Rashomon," in which four eyewitness accounts of a murder are explained to the viewer.

In this exhibition, stories are selected using a variation of the concept of game theory called the "prisoner's dilemma," which shows the difference between individual and group thinking.

David Familian, the acting assistant director at the Beall Center, said there is a competition between stories at play.

"This is exploring different forms of narratives. There is a cinematic quality here; you are not just pushing buttons," Familian said. "We try to show works that use technology in innovative ways."

Center Director Eleanore Stewart said artists from all over the world vie for space inside the studio. She said those on the center's committee agreed that this exhibition was a worthy use of space and time.

"This gives a new definition to the meaning of authorship," she said. "Usually, it's one person crafting a story. Here, the computer is the author and machines are making the decisions."

IF YOU GO

* WHAT: "5 'til 12" exhibition

* WHEN: Through March 15; noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

* WHERE: UC Irvine's Beall Center for Art and Technology, 712 Arts Plaza, Claire Trevor School of the Arts

* COST: Free

* INFO: (949) 824-4339 or beallcenter.uci.edu