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SIGHTS : Ventura Artist Draws on Video Technology : sTeVe Knauff's labyrinth fills the Art City II Gallery space with sprawling plywood constructions housing cheap TV sets.

March 17, 1994|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Info. It comes at us from all sides, whether we want it or not. Info is spit in our faces with such regularity and vehemence that it tends to cancel out its own best intentions, becoming a blur instead of a focused, pressing concern.

Almost by necessity, artists with any modicum of social awareness have to face the question of how to deal with info age stimuli. They must decide whether to make their art an arcane refuge from data, to lash out against it or to embrace it.

Ventura multimedia artist sTeVe Knauff responds to these questions with a firm all-of-the-above.

As seen in his installation at the Art City II Gallery, Knauff draws directly on television/video technology in his work, even as he attempts to dismantle the mythology and preconceptions built up around TV culture.

This calculatedly cacophonous exhibition, entitled "RETRO-gradations: Regurgitated Relics from Fading Memories. . .," is what the artist calls a "sub-retrospective."

The show, an elaborate labyrinth, consumes and alters the gallery space with its sprawling, funky constructions housing cheap TV sets galore. Architectural elements, mostly the utilitarian plywood, provide a physical, real space counterpoint to the ephemeral TV-based material.

Significantly, the work in this show dates back to a 1979 photograph called "Mutant in Search of the Answer," depicting a precariously perched TV set. Later, Knauff evolved from two to three dimensions as he literally found set-up TV sets in precarious positions in galleries, while shuffling video info on those TV sets.

Knauff's own search for an answer took him to UCLA, where he earned his MFA last year. One of the primary elements of Knauff's thesis exhibit at UCLA, and a centerpiece--or command post--of this exhibition, is "Countdown 2,000: Listen/Believe-Gotheamericanway."

The large eye-shaped booth is lined with shelves of videotapes of taped news broadcasts from every day since Knauff's 30th birthday. The artist's intention is to mark time, as in a countdown, to his 40th birthday, coinciding with the change of the millennium.

Elsewhere, we find works consisting of performance props--such as from a version of Beckett's "Breathe" done at Art City--and other installation-minded pieces.

Knauff's videographic materials run a gamut from "objective" input--TV news, a bikini contest, Angie Dickinson--to the documentation of his own art performances.

And in "Familiar Illusions" we meet the subject, and it is us. In this interactive setting, an overhead camera captures the viewer, but only when he or she stands in a position where pitchforks and strapped-on TV sets dangle overhead, seeming to pose a threat to safety. The camera apparatus itself has an imposing, artillery-like quality, referring to an underlying issue for Knauff--the invasive nature of media.

If info arrives in carefully designed, self-contained chunks, Knauff's art is nothing if not unfinished and lined with funk.

Knauff is an artist for whom ellipsis dots are highly useful. Observe the title of his show or this statement describing the nature of its contents: " . . . a roaming band of fragmented relics, like 'marauding nomads' of 'set-like' ruins . . . but, big, archaic things that take up a lot of space . . ."

Conceptually oriented and process-minded, he is scarcely concerned with conclusive, declarative, polished statements. He doesn't even seem concerned that technical difficulties disrupt the functionality of his pieces.

In fact, the notion of machinery--and systems--being prone to breaking down are key to Knauff's aesthetic. For him, the slick and seemingly pragmatic parade of electronic culture is leading society on a crash course--a course that can then be fed back into the info machine.

Rather than being didactic or alarmist about his message, Knauff maintains a sense of humorous cool about his work. He devises clever contraptions that incorporate info bits and technology, while keeping his guerrilla wits about him.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

Across town, at the generally more mild-mannered Buenaventura Gallery, Mona Neuhaus shows watercolors that may be the diametric opposite of sTeVe Knauff's work. Each to their own.

Neuhaus traffics in perfectly pleasant, horizontally formatted images of rural splendor and wide open spaces in such places as Santa Ynez, Wyoming and Yosemite. They brush across the viewer's senses like a pollen-less breeze.

Also notable in the outer gallery are the vivid, neo-Fauvist images from Gayel Childress' "Ojai Landscape" series, and Jane McKinney's dream-fed outdoors image, "Walking to Grant Park."

CENTER-ING ART

Gerd Koch, who has taught at Ventura College for some four decades now, remains one of the bright lights in the ranks of Ventura's painting community. And works such as the generous selection currently showing at the Ventura County Government Center, are very much about the pure power and wonder of painting.

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