The Province ****10
What John Neon can and cannot do - his glowing neon tubes are anything but sinister - they create pleasant sensations for electrical human minds
"I do anything I can't do"
That epitomizes the approach to life of John Masciuch, nicknamed John Neon, who has emerged so rapidly as an original light artist.
In March, a total unknown, he had his first one-man show at the Douglas Gallery; last month his panelescence responsive to touch attracted some of the greatest audience participation at the VAG's Intermedia Nights; this summer he has been asked by the Canadian National Exhibition to participate in an art and technology display; and in November he is to have a one-man show at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
This success, while due mainly to the turning on of his creative energies, has been fostered also by the extensive contacts of Intermedia. For example the attention of the Art Gallery of Ontario was drawn to him through the visit of Gallery staffer Dennis Young, who dropped into the building on Beatty Street to see a show set up for a group of American curators.
John Masciuch is , in fact, one of the best illustrations of the value of Intermedia, for without it he might never have discovered himself.
Who then is he?
John Masciuch is 25 years old, of Ukrainian descent, born in Ottawa and raised in Edmonton. There his last job was giving guitar lessons, being himself only one step ahead of his students.
It worked for the first year but in the second, when he was called upon to teach the theory of music, Masciuch fell apart. "One day I said to the students: ' You can learn it yourself' and walked out."
Subsequently he came to Vancouver to attend City College. Having red about Intermedia and dabbled in electronics since the age of 10 when he put together radios, he decided to present some proposals to workshop manager David Orcutt. They were, however, so Vague that her was nearly shown the door.
He was at the time, according to Joe Kyle, acting executive Director of Intermedia, "a very unhappy boy, completely alienated. But we gave him some space and some encouragement and away he went.
Aware of all the time he had wasted, Masciuch worked 20 hours a day, experimenting with re-activating burnt out fluorescent tubes while trying to keep up at City College.
"Without sleep you extend your time. I never understood it but I adjusted my metabolic rate so that I had to work in this manner."
Asked if he had ever taken drugs Masciuch said yes, once, but it had been a mistake. It was while he was driving himself to meet the deadline for his show at the Douglas Gallery that someone suggested that he take a drug to "sustain the peak".
"I had seven people at the Douglas Gallery helping me, all asking me what they should do, but i was thinking so fast I couldn't answer." After this over stimulation he collapsed.
"Taking drugs," he concluded soberly, "is an interesting way of committing psychic suicide."
Masciuch has now settled into a more normal routine, centering his whole existence around Intermedia. You can find him there almost anytime except mornings looking like a waif, always unshaven, with the luminous dark eyes of a mystic. He frequently finishes a sentence with "Believe that!" , followed by a laugh half bravura half incredulous, an though he has difficulty himself in believing what has happened to him.
We discussed the sinister connotations which electricity must have for mid- twentieth century consciousness-the electrified fences around the death camps, electricity used for torture that will leave no marks, the electric chair, Shock treatments.
Masciuch on the contrary would like to create pleasant sensations from electricity. He spoke of "programing people to resonate with the environment." Seizing a piece of paper he drew the graph of a brain waive as it is when the body is at rest, like a series of gently rolling hills.
Through the appropriate strobe the same soothing rhythm can be induced. Or if you want people to be happy and excited, when the brain waves register a graph that shoots up and down fast, you seek the same configuration in your light image.
Masciuch with the flickering illumination on the left side of his Aurora Borealis panel at the VAG.
He reminded me that we are continually giving off waves of every sort-heat, energy, electricity-and that the reason his fluorescent tubes react when we put our hands on them is that we have become part of the circuit. "We are electrical beings. For example we get depressed when it rains because of the dampening of the amount of electricity in the air. Buildings should change color with rain-I've even been talking about it with an architect."
Meanwhile he is grateful to the firms who have already helped him, Especially B.C. Fluorescent Lease-Lite, which came to his rescue when he was desperately short of tubes to complete his sculptures in environment at the Douglas Gallery.
Now he 5000 tubes at believe that!
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