In the de Young Museum’s Kimball Education Gallery, an investigation of intergalactic proportions is underway. During a month-long residency at the museum, artist, playwright and musician Jon Bernson and collaborators have explored the Vessel XII controversy, described as a series of 12 unexplained broadcasts that interrupted television sets around the world over a period of 23 years. The transmissions mysteriously end in 2009, the year digital conversion rendered our old cathode ray tube sets obsolete.
Antiprism, as the residency is titled, inhabits a strange and nebulous place on the space--time continuum. Antiquated technology like VHS tapes and turtlenecks sit alongside talk of time travel. Playing with sound, image, object and narrative, Bernson and co. craft an otherworldly tale of distant journeys, complete with words of advice from a wiser, post-Earthly future.
According to Bernson and project co-creator Michael Falsetto-Mapp, expert (and amateur) opinions on the source of the Vessel XII broadcasts differ widely. Are they from a distant spacecraft? An alternate dimension? The future? Or can they be explained away as sophisticated signal hacks?
In the Kimball Gallery, research into these competing claims takes an aesthetic turn. Video projections of the colorful broadcasts fit well on the gallery’s spacey floor-to-ceiling glass panels. On two opposite walls, a map of the vessel’s path through the universe matches perfectly with a view of the broadcasts’ appearances around an inverted globe. Irregular geometric shapes scattered around the room are sculptural approximations of the “vessel” itself. And in one corner, a mirrored sculpture by Andy Diaz Hope replicates the Antiprism, a mystical navigational device discovered and used by Vessel XII on its travels.