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by Isabel Anderson

(CSU Bakersfield, Bakersfield) Unlike the Russian Constructivists who had a utopian socialist agenda, contemporary artists use technology in less programmatic and more open-ended ways. Today the merging of machine and aesthetic vision has lost the controversial edge it had thirty years ago in the famous Art and Technology exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum. Then curator of modern art Maurice Tuchman noted that there was a typically American “. . .frank, or even ironical attitude towards the machine. . .albeit with a certain romantic or comic nuance.” Tuchman explored a linkage between aritsts and engineers, advancing the development of creative ideas that were otherwise not possible due to great expense or lack of information.

Today’s art/technology matrix is so taken for granted that we tend to look through it. So immediate and personal has our connection to technology become that it has become something of an invisible screen. In art today mechanical things have become aesthetic objects in their own right. Plugged In offers a look at these changes as well as a cross section of current technological works that share a sharpness, humor, together with poetic insights. Curator Kathryn Hackman, not seeking to mount an exhaustive survey, includes six artists whose selections are able to stand alone without infringing on the space or atmosphere of their neighbors.

Ana-Victoria Aenlle’s ten minute black and white video is dead-pan but affecting, filmed as a series of abstract scenes from a moving train. Reflections of landscape and a minimal human presence mirror the fragmentary nature of modern life. With a different kind of flicker and flash, M.I.T. engineer and mathematician Jim Campbell’s custom electronic LEDs are splashes of moving light. In close-up the lights resolve into images of a person running and falling.

Ana-Victoria Aenlle, "Temporary
Life," video still, 1999.

Jim Campbell,
"Ambiguous Icon 1
(running, falling)," custom electronics/
LEDs, 10 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 1", 2000.

Chris Forfar, "Sleepless" (detail),
computer sfn/fugix print, 22 x 28".

Jim Jenkins, "Fallout," mixed media
with motor, 31 x 13 x 21", 1997.

Lili Lakitch, "Paradise II,"
aluminum/found objects/neon
and argon gases in glass tubing,
45 x 41 x 8", 1996.

Kathryn Metz, "Interior Garden,"
lightbox/screenprints on
plexiglass, 20 x 17 x 10", 1977.
Because of his unusual experience as the child of a white American family living in Indochina during the War years, Chris Forfar works within the nexus of insider-outsider. In addition to wall-hung images which exploit four-dimensional effects as only the computer can, he shows an interactive video of various bridges in Los Angeles, complete with sounds of rushing traffic and dramatic real-life stories. The image of the bridge is a natural metaphor for the joining of disparate experiences; you construct your own narrative.

Jim Jenkins’ three motorized works materialize language in a way that highlights the choices and insoluble dilemmas which drive people in their unending search for authenticity or escape. Torments depicts a waving feather that almost, but never quite touches the letter ‘S.’ This cranky toy is placed under a bell jar, lending it a perverse elegance.

Neon and argon tubing are the materials Lili Lakitch is known for. Paradise and Paradox are aluminum profiles with film reel and glowing gaseous connecting tubes. The mystery of the mind and body are also the subjects of Kathryn Metz’ light box of body x-rays screen-printed onto sheets of plexiglas. These sheets are placed one in front of another, their translucent colors intimating interiority and contemplation.

This is a group of individually distinct visions that together argue that artists today use new technologies with familiarity and assurance. Here these means seem to lose their materiality, or at least become as comfortable and as personal as pencil and brush.