TechnopiaNovember 18, 2009
Do we live in a perfect world, the rational, pacifist realization of Thomas More’s 1516 Platonic fantasy? Current events suggest otherwise: Utopia means “no-place,” after all, and More (the star of A Man for All Seasons) was anything but a naïve visionary. The dream of earthly paradise lives on, however. American culture, despite a persistent strain of religiosity (its occasional anti-intellectual, bigoted outbursts cannot really be called religion), has an abiding faith in science and technology. In the same spirit of intellectual curiosity, artists eagerly explore new technologies—e.g., plastics, acrylic paints, video, and computers—as they become available to constrained budgets. The title of this exhibition, “Technopia,” derived from Technology + Utopia, explained curator Paul Bridenbaugh, and the high-tech works by Robert Geshlider, Jon Huffman, Tanya Lin Jaffe, Therese Lahaie, and Andrew Werby demonstrated art’s continual evolution in step with increasing scientific knowledge.
Geshlider created three-dimensional sculptures—variously figurative and abstract, but all colorful, humorous, and somewhat toylike—on a computer program entitled Solidworks. These virtual artworks he realized in two-dimensional archival inkjet prints like Troll (2009) and Birdfoot (2009); and, more impressively, in three-dimensional sculptures created, miraculously, by an industrial-prototype Z-Corporation printer that sprays out alternate layers of plaster powder and water-based colored inks. The resulting sculptures, e.g., Yellow Face (2008), Journal (2008), Train-Fraction (2007), Turtle (2007), were thus untouched by human hands—until Geshlider coated them in protective epoxy or cyanoacrylate resin. Some of his more abstract works suggested a hilariously demented mixture of Frank Stella, Stuart Davis, and Peter Saul.
Huffman confronted the nature-culture dilemma head-on with his untitled archival C-prints, all from 2009, which were enlarged screen shots (via 4 by 5" transparency sheet film and studio camera) of floral images frozen into pixels on digital monitors. While his methodology recapitulated various aspects of art history—realism’s and Pop’s embrace of the contemporary world, Impressionism’s soft focus, and Abstract Expressionism’s color fields—Huffman’s digital spin made for neat paradoxes about perception and representation. The transcription of the natural world through various media, stylization added to feedback, caused the color to heighten and blur, resulting in flowers divested of tactile reality (and perishability) but transformed into optical icons.
Jaffe employed contemporary technology to explore contemporary life through the various scientific filters that film, digital, Polaroid, X-ray, and even cell-phone cameras afford. She combined and altered the various images in Photoshop, scanning and rescanning as necessary, gradually creating complex images of real and nonexistent objects.
She displayed these as wall-mounted prints on paper, like In Search of Fertility (2009), and, in the installation San Francisco Archaeology (2009), as diagnostic X-rays affixed to table- or wall-mounted light boxes. Objects were transformed into patterns of light against the black backgrounds, suggestive of glowing plants in infrared photographs.
Lahaie created light-and-shadow-generating mechanisms from stainless steel, glass, mirrors, and motors. But despite their machine-art Constructivist appearance, these pieces looked outward (or into the past), replicating without imitating the ever-changing patterns of nature. The rotating cylinder of Above, Below, Around (2008) may have suggested the platens of computer printers, but the viewer was inescapably reminded of light diffused through foliage, reflected from waves, and refracted through glass, ice, and crystal. A series of photograms (prints made by exposing objects directly on photo film without benefit of camera or negative) made from bubbled or “seedy” glass depicted black expanses speckled with white oblong ovals, suggesting microscopic life, astronomy, and metaphysics and religion—for Lahaie, more specifically, the Tibetan bardo, the limbo between earthly lives.
Werby used computer technology to explore new possibilities in sculpture. He processed the three-dimensional scans of various geological, paleontological, and anthropological molds, which he made while studying sculpture at Berkeley, through a complex array of equipment and software. Using technologies such as Roland and MDX scanning and milling machines, AutoCAD, Photoshop, and Rhinoceros, he was able to resize, copy, and combine this information. The results were surreal, vaguely anthropomorphic yet densely patterned organic-appearing sculptures crafted n wood, metal, powder, and pigment that he called Juxtamorphs (Calstada, Aragscut, Guitgaur, etc., all undated). Working with like-minded sculptors, he has started a business, ComputerSculpture, to help artists utilize these new technologies.
Technology may not usher in the millennium, but this show proved that artists’ ever-evolving response to technological change will ensure art’s continued vitality and relevance.
Technopia was on view at Skyline Gallery in San Bruno from August 26th to October 3rd.
DeWitt Cheng writes for Art Ltd., Artillery, Sculpture, and East Bay Express. He has also contributed to Artweek, Art News, San Francisco Art Magazine, Daily Gusto, Art Revolutionaries, Shotgun Review, and Art Business. He recently curated a satirical show on the Bush administration entitled "A Farewell Kiss," featuring the paintings of Mark Bryan and the photomontages of Bruce Yurgil.