Curatorial Projects > Curatorial projects 1993- 2001


"Sounding like a new synthetic fabric, sexy color, or the next big thing in techno music, 'TRANSPOLYBLU' was, in fact, a wild art mix of digital lightness and stubborn physicality. Guest curators Sabina Ott and Ron Laboray subtitled the show 'A Digital Exposition' in an inclusive effort to demonstrate why it is not easy to designate exactly what constitutes 'digital art.' Their exhibition of diverse work succeeded in setting forth some of the meanings of the term 'digital,' and the various intersections it might have with the traditional stuff we normally think of as 'art.'

The selection of work from across the country generated an animated, heuristic space where the viewer could wander the hyperspeedy and visually complex cyberspaces of Jody Zellen's web site or buy T-shirts, CDs, and decals from Nicholas Kamuda, seeming like the art equivalent of fast food. Michelle Wasson's painting/installation 'All We Have to do is Disappear...(It should be easy)' simply mesmerizes with spore-like elements that spill beyond the work's frame on to the architecture of the gallery. The heady diversity of 'TRANSPOLYBLU' made me wonder what might happen to art transformed into a never-ending stream of electronic data. Should we ponder over the digital's capacity to deplete the aura of the work of art, as did theorists like Walter Benjamin over the effects of photography?

While an eagerness to answer this question can be seen in a number of analogous shows like the Whitney Museum of American Art's recent 'BitStreams,' TRANSPOLYBLU indicates that it may be too soon to know for sure. Directly or indirectly the digital is transforming the conditions under which art is made, and the way artists think about art. Everyone seems to want to flirt with digital media. Ott's own digital prints look like her densely layered, almost sculptural paintings on acid or speed--much thinner and more psychedelic, with dizzyingly deep perspectives. Here, the physical weight and haptic purchase of painting are morphed into flat visual tautness and gravidational pull. On the other hand, Laboray's wall-sized projection of an 'interactive' map of St. Louis revealed the seductive power of the digital to make us believe that weighty political, racial, and economic realities can be rearranged at will with the speed of a mouse-click. Yet Laboray's wicked computer game, in which viewers could move upscale neighborhoods over to Martin Luther King Boulevard, one of the more ruinous streets in post-industrially blighted St. Louis, simultaneously pointed out the intransigence of the real.

The fantasy-induced sickness and vertigo that can sometimes result from viewing digitally composed images gets played to the hilt in Meghan Boody's 'Psyche and Smut,' two light-jet prints full of dense allegorical possibilities. Two little girls appear in strangely illuminated, underground cave-like spaces, while a rhyming text explains that Psyche is Smut's (or perhaps our own?) 'primeval playmate, a partner in slime...' A cross between 'Alice in Wonderland' and kiddie porn, Boody's field of digitally mediated desire and potential transformation seems, oddly, as old as Ovid's 'Metamorphosis.' Specially cast, ornate frames that look like a mix of Art Nouveau curves and sex toys give the images a kind of bodily presence.

Chris Finley's painting 'Scream House Scramble Drag Zoom,' which mimics digital imagery, schizophrenically plays the materiality of its medium, acrylic sign enamel, against a video-game dynamic of violence--in this case, kids in flames fleeing a slick suburban house. Countering Finley's apocalyptic mood was the Formica-cool, affectless, gridded landscape of Torben Giehler's painting, which compares the shapes and structures of micro-chips and computer circuitry to Piet Modrian's abstractions. A Mondrianesque restraint also pulses through John F. Simon's work consisting of two isolated Apple Powerbook screens on which a computer program forms then dissolves small grids and cityscapes. By dislodging the screens from their casings Simon calls attention to their physical properties, even as his delicately shifting pixilated images reinforce the idea that 'image' is almost beside the point, just one possible output from a binary code. Simon's art is cool to the point of near vaporization.

This paradox between the physical presence of objects and the transitory nature of digital images was strongly evoked in Richard Krueger's ponderously massive, yet beautifully crafted wood sculptural supports for a collection of tiny, sickly romantic, and perverse digital images of nudes, gilded ornaments, antique-looking family photographs, sailing ships, and rockets floating against dense decorative backgrounds. The mournful, tomblike physicality of the wood seems, in the context of the otherwise racy 'TRANSPOLYBLU' world, more of the nineteenth century than of the contemporary atmosphere of zing-pow simulation and special effects. But like the many absorbing hybrids of electronic data and material presence in 'TRANSPOLYBLU'--itself an arresting hybrid of a word--the work offered material satisfactions that play well in the current moment of digital euphoria."

Debra Riley Parr
New Art Examiner
July-August, 2001

Debra Riley Parr
New Art Examiner