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Playing With Video Games and Other Present Fixations

October 11, 2002|HOLLY MYERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The Same Thing We Do Every Night," an exhibition playfully devoted to the theme of "technology addiction," features seven artists who've no doubt spent more than a few late-night hours bathed in the blue glow of computer monitors.

Their work, much of it rooted in the aesthetic and thematic principles of the video game, cultivates a user-friendly atmosphere in the Project gallery, which makes the exhibition a thoroughly enjoyable experience

Andy Alexander's small inkjet prints, most stashed in out-of-the way locations throughout the room, are clean, futuristic images that lend an element of cryptic science fiction.

Gabriel Fowle's video piece "Revelation I," which dubs an old "Transformers" cartoon with a passage of text from the Bible ("I am the alpha and the omega," one towering machine growls to his followers), is bare-bones simple but startlingly effective in both its humor and its menace.

Janine Cirincione and Michael Ferraro's "The Bloviator"--a complicated installation of small screens, shelves, wires, jars, speakers and mysterious colored liquids--evokes another sci-fi messiah: a round-headed, slit-eyed little creature who preaches a bizarre blend of physics, philosophy and grammar from a submerged video screen to a small crowd of identical plastic figures.

Yucef Merhi's "Atari Poetry" series--in which the artist has reprogrammed old Atari game consoles to produce crudely pixilated fragments of poetic text ("As a dog I look for the bones of my body to bury them again in me," for example)--will surely incite the nostalgia of old-school technophiles.

For the more up-to-date, there's James Bruckhouse's "Tap," a very charming program for individual personal digital assistants (available for download on the Internet) that features the animated figure of a tap dancer. (The piece, which was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, appears here on a sample personal digital assistant, alongside two preparatory sketches.)

Jason Salavon's "Golem" is, like "Tap," a product of programming: a digital archive of 100,000 abstract "paintings," which the viewer can scroll through on a computer screen and which are also projected on a nearby wall. Though these are hardly great paintings by traditional standards, there's something soothing about their quantity, their availability. "Why paint when you can program painting?" Salavon seems to be asking.

For a moment or two, it sounds like a reasonable question.

The Project, 962-B East 4th St., L.A., (213) 620-0743, through Nov. 16. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays.

*

Intelligent Work Forges Links

In a statement accompanying her current exhibition, Iona Rozeal Brown poses the question: "What does it mean to be linked, connected to someone or something and only feel it or suppose it but not know why or how to even explain it?"

In a shrinking world, where ethnic boundaries are fluid and cultural identification is an ever more lucrative commodity, this is a significant--and tellingly convoluted--question. The specific connection that Brown refers to in her work is one she's observed: contemporary Japanese and Korean youth forging with African American hip-hop culture.

Her flat, colorful paintings are rendered in the Ukiyo-e style of Japanese imagery, a style developed in the 17th century that is generally associated with images of everyday life and leisure. But they also incorporate idiosyncratic fragments of hip-hop fashion.

In addition to traditional Japanese robes, slippers and hair combs, for example, Brown's figures wear Afros, cornrows, caps with logos and brown skin paint. They smoke cigarettes, spin records and gaze coolly at the viewer, as if posing for CD covers.

Implicit in Brown's treatment of this subject is another important connection: her own fascination, as an American, with the behavior of these Asian youth and the aesthetic traditions of Asian culture generally. Her adoption of the Ukiyo-e style is, after all, not so far removed from her subject's adoption of hip-hop.

Although she must be aware of this peculiar reciprocity, she stops short of addressing it directly. Indeed, one senses throughout the work that Brown is far more interested in raising provocative questions than in answering them. Her paintings aim to jar expectations through the unexpected juxtaposition of coded icons, which may be a useful tactic in dealing so frankly with issues of race.

The shortcomings of the work are largely formal and suggest that the project has yet to reach its full maturity. (This is Brown's first solo exhibition since graduating from the Yale School of Art last spring.) For all her researched familiarity with the Ukiyo-e style, Brown's use of line feels tentative and thick, her colors uncomfortably self-conscious. One finds oneself longing for greater delicacy and a sense of spontaneity, qualities admittedly more difficult to acquire than research.

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