Brian Conley was born in 1951 and received his BA in Psychology from the State University of New York, Binghamton. After attending the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Conley was awarded an MFA in Sculpture and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He has exhibited his work widely throughout the United States and Europe, including solo exhibitions at Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, England; Zinc Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden; and Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. Group exhibitions include War/Art/New Technologies, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR (2000); Wild/Life, Weatherspoon Art Gallery, Greensboro, NC (1998); and Current/Undercurrent, Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY (1997). His radio broadcast, War! (1999), originally a live interactive sound performance between New York (radio WBAI) and Belgrade, Serbia (Radio B2-92), was recently featured in BitStreams at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY curated by Lawrence Rinder and Debra Singer. Conley currently lives and works in New York City.
From radio performance to sculptural and sound-based installations, Conley’s artistic practice operates between the divide of science and art. Appearing as anatomical models or artifacts from some future time, Conley uses scientific research and political inquiry to construct new morphologies that wryly challenge our perceptions of humanity, nature, technology, and consciousness.
Brian Conley was chosen for his ArtPace residency by Lisa Corrin, Chief Curator at the Serpentine Gallery, London, England. She has organized a number of significant shows for the Serpentine including solo exhibitions by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Chris Ofili, Jane and Louise Wilson, Bridget Riley, and an upcoming show of Rachael Whiteread. Corrin was recently appointed Deputy Director for Art/Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum, WA.
In his work, Brian Conley complicates the natural order of things. Translating scientific research and data into abstracted simulations with humorous subtexts, Conley consistently renders the natural unnatural and the serious absurd. From large-scale sculpture to live-radio broadcasts and interactive sound installations, Conley’s work presents unlikely circumstances as logical possibilities for locating human experience within a continuum bounded by technology and nature.
Continuing an investigation into evolution and the divide between animals and humans, Conley’s project for ArtPace centers on a species of frog and its distinct mating call. Using research from both zoology and neuroscience, Conley has constructed a room-sized mechanical sculpture based on a frog’s vocal communication system.
In this installation, the viewer enters a dimly lit exhibition space. Emerging from the shadows is a 15-foot tall aluminum contraption attached to a large orange cloth draped across the floor. Inside this low-tech structure sits a row of wooden organ pipes and a wide, funnel-like horn. Activated by the viewer’s entrance into the space, the cloth sack quickly inflates to a 10 x 24-foot balloon, simulating an oversized vocal pouch. Voluptuous and intimidating, its overwhelming size reverses the typical human/animal dynamic suggesting instead a giant frog and a small human being.
As the balloon slowly deflates, it forces air through several acoustic sound-generating devices to a funnel directed at the viewer, issuing a series of discordant noises—the frog’s mating call. Because the mating call is the only language in which the frog is able to communicate, this first moment of “contact” between human and frog is loaded with absurd sexual innuendo. Monstrous yet alluring, the work reorganizes the hierarchical relationship between human and animals, albeit with a humorous twist.
Conley’s investigations locate the intersection of science, philosophy, art, technology, and the improbable. Reinterpreting information into an analogue of its original source, Conley transforms our assumptions of the natural world into limitless questions.