LIFESTYLE & TRENDS

Art, technology interface well at `info@blah'

Net Life/by Stephanie Schorow
Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The assignment seemed simple: Write a column about the Boston Cyberarts Festival, a two-week foray into the collision of art and technology. So I visited http://www.bostoncyberarts.org/ to peruse the schedule and the online exhibits.

A few hours later, I was nursing a case of brain freeze. The festival ranges all over the technological landscape, from cerebral to sublime to just silly. I hadn't really found a column topic - there was just too much, in too many directions - and I was running out of time.

In desperation, I leafed through a (paper!) festival booklet. My blurred eyes suddenly focused on ``info@blah: overload and organization,'' an exhibit at the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Overload. That's exactly how I felt. So I did something radical: I walked (yes, actual movement!) over to the gallery on Tremont Street to see virtual art nonvirtually. I also chatted F2F (face to face) with Natalie Loveless, a Mills Gallery official, and with Kanarinka and Pirun (they wanted their cybernames used), the co-founders of iKatun, the artist collective that had put on the show.

The threesome, all looking to be hip 20-somethings, grew up in a world where a computer on every desk was more common than a chicken in every pot. But they nonetheless had questions about what technology was doing to the human mind.

Those not used to the cutting edge of art installation should give themselves time to tease out the meaning of the flashing screens, wires, blinking lights, ant farm and bits and bytes of color in the show.

Anna Shapiro's two ``White Noise'' constructions use wires and sculpture to physically depict the info input of daily life. Angie Walker's `Datamining the Amazon'' extrapolates bookseller Amazon.com's method of making recommendations to customers based on the products they buy and to determine the musical tastes of the political left and right.

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer is fascinated with binary code, the basic off-on language of computers. To see ``the zeroes and the ones,'' she lays out a table of chocolates in ``Revealed Message''; viewers take one and leave the wrapper, creating a pattern of white and dark dots. As Loveless put it, ``It gets to the seduction of technology - the literal way (the chocolate) moves through your system.'' I did my part for art by grabbing a chocolate; you certainly can't do that online.

Several projects are Internet-based art, and you can see them at www.ikatun.com/info@blah. But it's not the same. I felt powerful as I twisted and untwisted Nicholas Clauss' witty ``Spirale'' on a large screen in the gallery; the piece uses tools of art - paintbrushes and scrapers - as the art itself. Playing with ``Spirale'' on the home computer, however, felt more like goofing off. Clicking Stanza's haunting http://www.thecentralcity.co.uk/ project in the gallery, I could feel the vibrations of the computer housed in a white box as a ``Matrix''-like soundtrack rolled. That wouldn't happen at home.

``What is the difference between art and art on the Net? It's a great question,'' Kanarinka said.

Just what constitutes ``cyberart'' is evolving. Kanarinka and Pirun admitted they had to weed through lots of ``junk'' to pick the art for this show; they wanted to avoid ``in-your-face'' gimmicks and ``technological fetishism.''

``Look at CNN,'' Pirun said. ``Now it looks like a Web page. A box here, a ticker here . . . They are trying to add as much bits and pieces as they can.''

At the gallery, ``We try to present (cyberart) outside the computer,'' he said.

That ``we live in technology overload'' has become a cliche, Kanarinka said. So the show goes to the next step: How do humans respond? How do we conduct personal data mining and what internal algorithms do we use to organize what we find? ``We are all engaged in building our own system,'' she said.

Those interested in exploring these issues may attend ``net.art: Problems and Promise,'' a free panel discussion at the gallery on Thursday, from 8 to 10 p.m. Also, Harvard arts educator Jessica Davis will conduct a gallery walk tonight from 6 to 8. ``info@blah'' continues at the Mills Gallery through July 6.

For more information, call 617-426-8835 or go to http://www.bcaonline.org/.


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