John Armstrong

Sandor Ajzenstat "Convergence Machine"
Part of Arraymusic’s SCRATCH!3
The Case Goods Warehouse, Distillery District, Toronto

Sandor Ajzenstat is one of many artists who studied in the Ontario College of Art and Design’s Photo-Electric Arts Department. His artwork owes something to the ideas of the department’s now-retired instructor and guiding light Norman T. White who began the college’s annual Sumo Robot Wrestling Match, where, since 1992, remote-controlled widgets made of electric-surplus parts do annual battle before a very public, all-ages audience. An interest in mining our fascination with mechanized representations of real life runs through students associated with this program (Simone Jones, Jeff Mann) and ultimately right back to White himself, who, for example, built a robotic arm in the late 80s that charmingly and rather awkwardly attempted to mime the movement of dancer and choreographer Bettle Liota’s right arm.

Ajzenstat’s Convergence Machine (2005) is a computerized device that characterizes periodicity. The artist explains this idea by asking us to imagine a group of people walking together whose strides occasionally fall into perfect synch. This is an apt metaphor as we incite his machine to perform by turning various knobs and watching lights speed around circular paths to a point were they might converge. The machine looks like a biomorphic, Jetson’s-era kitchen range, its paths of lights resemble the burners on a smooth-top stove, and the clunky plastic knobs add a sort of 1970s stereo-amp aspect to the retro-future chic of Ajzenstat’s contraption.

But the real kicker, and the reason why this piece was included in the Arraymusic’s experimental sound series, is that once we have set into motion a speeding stream of lights a voice tells us how many seconds it will be until convergence occurs. This is the practised voice of Chris Lohner, who reads broadcast announcements of the arrival and departure of trains on the Austrian National Railway. If we wish to speed up the time in which convergence will occur, we turn the appropriate knob and Lohner’s voice speeds up until she sounds like Alvin the chipmunk. Conversely, her voice can be turned down to a deep, sepulchral drawl.

The operation of this sculptural timepiece is not straightforward: I don’t know what I might have done were the puckish Ajzenstat not in attendance to guide and cajole me. And if too many people fiddle with the knobs, everything freezes, and Ajzenstat needs to reboot the piece. But there is something weirdly moving and all-too-familiar in our attempt to hurry or defer convergence. Time, in the end, just can’t quite bring itself to be too easily messed with.

Canadian Art, Fall 2006