Species of Spaces: Milton Melvin Croissant III at Springsteen

It’s likely a familiar sight to residents of Baltimore city, a place with a notoriously high vacancy rate (link to a report on the commercial real estate market in Baltimore estimating an overall 19.53% vacancy for the city): posters plastering the sides of vacant buildings advertising activities that could happen inside, were someone to occupy it. Images of happy middle-class people shopping, drinking wine or coffee, looking at art, etc. Sometimes these images come from actual locations in the city (e.g. The Walters, Red Maple), while others appear generic and obviously digitally manipulated. The idea may have been to appear less of an eyesore than empty or boarded up windows, but these images nonetheless present a poorly rendered fantasy.

The abundance of unoccupied, and former-industrial buildings in the city has spawned a movement to fill these up with cheaply available mixed use artist housing, music venues, galleries and studios — with more and more popping up all the time. “Space” is the watchword in the arts community here, tacked on at the end of names (show —–, Open —–, Windup —–, etc.), and mentioned constantly in conversation, almost as often as the words “arts community.”

Springsteen is one of the newest additions to the conversation about space. Bright, clean, minimal, with a curatorial style to match, Springsteen makes a nice addition to the local gallery scene. Their current show, Presenter Mode is a solo presentation consisting primarily of large-scale inkjet prints by Milton Melvin Croissant III. While the press release describes the show as dealing with the idea of “Displays” (read: monitors, interfaces, screens), it also seems as much to be about that word, “space”: empty space (in rooms and on screens), fantasies of space, and styles of architectural space. Milton digitally renders images of offices, auditoriums, conference rooms, and also presents a few physical monitors displaying ambient imagery.

What’s really striking about these works, which the artist calls “scenes,” is their obvious level of care and detail. Unlike the posters on vacant buildings, these images are rendered immaculately, and feel quite complete. Except for the fact that a human presence would completely disrupt their serenity, it feels like you could walk right into them and become a digitized, early 90s version of yourself.

Milton used the open-source program Blender to create much of what’s on view. On the overall process of how the images come together he writes, “The scenes start as a pencil sketch, and then there’s a basic layout done in Blender. I just slowly start building all the objects and moving things around, playing with materials/composition, it feels like a series of endless iterations. What’s really fun and interesting about working in this 3D space, is that it really is a binary simulation of the world. You have to consider how light operates (ambient occlusion), how materials absorb, emanate, and reflect. After doing this for a while I find myself looking at, say, a Nerf ball in the sun, and will obsess about how to recreate that in terms of light.”

The process is as time consuming as it sounds, with some images taking at least 40 hours to model and 20 hours to render, and after that there is a period of small adjustments. “Once you render at super-high def and you can zoom into the intricacies/details of this world you made, you have to do all these revisions, because ‘the stanchion rope is too velvety’ and you find out the flower vase is actually hovering an inch above the countertop. It’s a huge payoff to see these printed. Some things can stay on the screen, but the detail in these require scale, and have this groovy IRL presence.”

The inspiration for the particular style of the scenes comes in part from the artist’s love of postmodern, institutional architecture: malls, airports, etc. It is also a reflection of time spent working at the Hopkins’ medical campus (which owns its fair share of space in this city!). “I often work late, and am the last person to switch of projectors at the end of the night. I would find myself in a small conference room, or large lecture hall, with this stark, glowing blue plane (projector in default blue mode, computer asleep). I was really struck the first time I saw this, alone late at night. It felt very transcendental, like a rift between worlds . . . We often only consider a monitor powered on, but these exist most of the time as voids/vacuums.”

The entire show successfully evokes this sense of a “rift between worlds” or a vacuum, especially the prints and the projection piece Dell Dimensions. You can almost hear the silence inside the rooms of the scenes, or feel their air-conditioned stasis. Occasionally something “natural” or “imperfect” (relative terms here) breaks through this quiet: the burning orange clouds outside the venetian blinds in Second Life or the blue fabric draped over just one of the many small, white, round seats in Portal 3. Presenter Mode is a fun, but also slow, contemplative show that rewards close attention for these moments to emerge.

Presenter Mode is up through August 2nd, with a closing reception on taking place that night from 8-10. The gallery is also open Saturdays from 12-4. Springsteen is located at 1511 Guilford, unit B303.

Thanks very much to the gallery, and to the artist for answering our questions!

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