ARTS & CULTURE

Medium trumps message in `Info@Blah'

Visual Arts/ by Mary Sherman
Sunday, April 27, 2003

``Info@Blah: Overload and Organization'' at Boston's Mills Gallery demands a certain kind of patience.

The show is curated by iKatun, a promising collaborative of people in the arts and technology, and much of it revolves around interactive computer programs, many of which resemble knock-out screen savers.

The best works, such as Stanza's ``www.thecentralcity.co.uk,'' combine a riveting onslaught of images with music, ensuring some of the coolest computer movies around. Stanza's piece also is the most technically brilliant. Embedded in it are 200 movies that a mouse click can call forth in less than a second. It's like surfing through a cybergeek's dream network.

The piece, however, is not without its weaknesses, such as the insertion of such pretentious texts as ``Reproduce the individual. We want a place to be proud to live in.'' Still, it is hands-down one of the show's most engaging works.

Similar pieces, such as Nicolas Clauss' ``Spirale'' and ``Dark Matter,'' Lia's ``www.re-move.org,'' Victor Liu's ``Dolter'' and Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg's ``Apartment'' - all presented in a separate screening room - are less navigator-friendly and, in general, borrow heavily from better-known artists such as William Kentridge.

The flaw with much of this work is that it depends too heavily on its dazzling graphic effects or computer wizardry without adding up to more than that. Unlike Kentridge's work, which is as much about technological effects as social commentary and the history of drawing and art making, the work here seems too enamored of its own accomplishments. It lacks a more compelling and resonant content, even if that content might be a commentary on the medium's possibilities and promise.

On some level, this is the disappointment of much of the show. Anouk De Clercq's Nam June Paik-like bank of TV monitors lacks Paik's visual acumen: Her use of the numerous monitors seems random more than necessary. Artist Natalie Loveless asked friends to send her pins that she combined with stories from people in the community; the result is silverpoint lines on the wall, studded in places with the requested pins. It's pleasant enough to look at, but ultimately too opaque to engage.

At the other end of the spectrum are Anna Shapiro's plaster TVs. Here, her point about TV's role as an information garbler and a numbing device is turned into visual one-liners.

More successful is Remo Campopiano with Guy Marsden and Jon Schull's ``Eight-bit Ant Farm.'' Although it is not quite clear what causes the pingpong balls attached to the farm to either glow or pop up, at least, it is clear there is some connection, enticing viewers to find out. Additionally helpful is that the installation itself is so well-crafted as to seem to have a definite purpose, even if we are left in the dark as to exactly what that is.

A similar formal beauty characterizes Tohru Kanayama's elegant typographical prints, Marsden's playful grids of blinking lights, Clover Archer's handsome black-and-white works, Nicholas Knight's crisp chart of threadlike paint and even BarronvonBerg's dotted heads talking to each other on different Macintosh Classic II screens.

Likewise, Rachel Perry Welty's winsome colored dots in ``Everything in the Beginning (from the coded painting series)'' clearly seem to reference color charts, and her Braille punches in ``Numbered Constellation 10,317'' point to constellations, but there remains a leap of faith that this is the case. In part, we are thrown off by the odd symbols in one and the fairly obvious pattern in the other.

Similarly, Angie Waller charts her examination of Amazon.com's recommendations to its shoppers with masterfully rendered textbook-style maps and graphs. But the work is neither compelling enough visually nor intellectually to do more than pique one's curiosity.

Then there's Joseph Smolinski's fun take on the science project of a potato as a transformer, in which he uses the spuds to light tiny pinpoints of fiber optics.

And finally, Rachel Beth Egenhoefer presents a grid of chocolates in which you are free to take one, leaving a ``binary'' pattern of yeses and nos.

What this adds up to is a lot of interesting beginnings and starts, but in most cases little follow-through. Like our technologically plugged-in society on which the show comments, ``we are now faced with new challenges put forth by the glut of gathered information and stimuli that bombards us daily,'' a press release notes.

In that the show mirrors this ``sea of raw, unfiltered data,'' it is successful. Whether we need more such overload, however, is still the question.

``Info@Blah'' at the Boston Center for the Arts' Mills Gallery, through July 6.

 


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