Artist Machine Dazzle’s “Ouroboros” on Display

Feel Good Friday Queer Night at UMMA March 15. Photo by Doug Coombe.

When strolling beside the University of Michigan Museum of Art, passersby may see a colorful array of materials in the shape of a snake exploding outside of itself. This is one of the UMMA’s newest installations: “Ouroboros” by artist Machine Dazzle. The exhibition is described as “a journey of infinities and stories of eternal life and rebirth” by the UMMA.

“This was a project that was intentionally built with this idea that he would kind of come and go over the course of the year and change the work over time,” the UMMA’s Deputy Director for Public Experience and Learning Jim Leija said. “I think it’s a sort of specific facet of how he works as an artist, too. […] I’ve never known him to be an artist who ever feels like anything is quite finished, which is like a wonderful capacity, you know, and I and people often ask him, ‘how do you know that it’s done’ and he says he listens to the materials, the materials tell him. You know, which is kind of an amazing thing to say.”

“Ouroboros” as a concept is an ancient Greek and Egyptian symbol representing a serpent eating its own tail. Machine Dazzle was inspired by the actual space within the UMMA, and created their installation around the space. 

“We did a site visit with him [and] when he saw the space he had this sort of vision of the oroboros,” Leija said.

Nearly all of the materials that make up “Ouroboros” are repurposed plastic packaging, bottles, cans, socks and more. Machine Dazzle has done projects in the past with found or salvaged materials.

“A lot of the material relates to providing such momentary pleasure and then just disappearing except that those materials […] and then they and then they exist for 100,000 years because they’re plastic,” Leija said. “And they’ll go on long beyond us. And so there’s this idea for him that plastic somehow continues to reproduce itself,”

There are three acts in “Ouroboros.” The second act is currently on display and is described to be “exploding out of itself and into the gallery in new ways — creating more for the viewer to consider and discover” according to the UMMA

“[Machine Dazzle] was talking last week when we had an artist interview about how there are already companies that are like that have made plastic for use in the future or projecting future plastic use and so it’s just a kind of never-ending regeneration,” Leija said. “So in a way, there’s kind of darkness to the work. Though he brings as an artist, his aesthetic is always kind of playfulness. And there’s a lot of intricacy and how he handles the materials.”

RELATED: FestiFools Pours Creativity and Inclusivity Into Ann Arbor

Every year, the UMMA partners with the STAMPS School of Art and Design through the University of Michigan to choose a Roman J. Witt Artist In Residence. This provides one artist with a fee for creating the art, a materials budget, and UMMA works alongside STAMPS to support the costs of installation and technical support. In addition to this, Machine Dazzle works with a team of production folks at the UMMA who source materials for the project.

The interior of a building.

“Our work at the museum is to kind of elevate creativity and to elevate the ways in which artists kind of hold the mirror up and kind of teach us about ourselves,” Leija said. “And even though I would, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a piece about environmentalism, it has themes of environment, sustainability, reproduction, queerness, gender [and] salvaging materials into something else. It also has real kind of material qualities to it. So it’s very physical.”

In addition to having the installation available for viewing during the museum’s open hours, Leija’s team works to create opportunities for the community to engage with Machine Dazzle and the art itself. They have hosted artist talks in the past and on June 14 they will be unveiling the third act in combination with an original sound composition and short performance aspects of “Ouroboros” at 5, 6 and 7 p.m.

“Community folks are really curious about how artists make their work, why they make their work and how they think about their work,” Leija said. “So this kind of residency project is, in my view, a way to sort of break down the mystery of artistic process and creation. And to like put artists in conversation with issues that we are thinking about all the time. Certainly in this community, we think a lot about like our own sort of consumption of plastics, recycling and our waterways and I think that like this gives us another view this project on that.”

Anyone can visit the UMMA for free and see “Ouroboros” on display until Aug. 25, 2024. The third act of “Ouroboros” will be on display starting June 14.

Note: some content displayed within “Ouroboros” may be best suited for mature audiences.

+ posts