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Gallery Tripping: computer artists work on their image



Artists have a long tradition of using technology's most advanced discoveries in their creative work. While art and science may appear to be polar opposites--science the realm of fact and logic, art the realm of imagination and intuition--there is a working unity between them. Scientists and artists are explorers. Leonardo da Vinci once noted that painting "has invented the characters in which the different languages are written, she has given the ciphers to the mathematician, and has described the figures of geometry, she teaches opticians, astronomers, mechanics and engineers." Today a number of artists have helped scientific researchers use computers to visualize abstract concepts. And scientists have advanced computer technology to the point where any artist can learn to control and use it. Technological development has made the computer an accessible means of personal expression.

"Art From the Computer: An Illinois Survey" is an interesting cross section of current computer art. Much of what has been called computer art has been characterized by a gee-whiz "Look what this thing can do!" approach. But the 29 artists in the survey define themselves by their visions--which their tools allow them to present. These artists work with machines that range from the Macintosh personal computer to the Cray supercomputer and represent a range of aesthetic concerns.

The final form of the image is critically important in computer art. The nature of a painting is, in part, a product of the vehicle, pigment, and surface. Similarly, the nature of a photograph is partly a product of its grain structure and emulsion. Artists working in these traditional media must confront the traditions that have developed from these characteristics. Although a picture on a computer screen is the product of tiny rectangles of light--called pixels (from "picture element")--that combine to form the image, you can't fill an art gallery with computers. So computer art must be translated into another medium for presentation. These artists chose a wide variety of solutions to this problem. While the majority chose photographic prints of their computer screens, others chose multimedia drawings, pen plotters (which draw a computer image), fabric prints, "pscholograms" (a pseudo-3-D approach), and video.

Of particular interest among the video productions are The Big Wake by Marilyn Wulff and Kalyian by Barbara Sykes-Dietze, which combine video and computer-manipulated images. Wulff describes The Big Wake as an "experiment in transition": images of body parts appearing and dissolving are alternated with text. Sykes-Dietze's Kalyian is based on a dance that combines the Philippine martial art Kali and Japanese Kabuki.

Also on exhibit are a number of two dimensional "pscholograms" by (art)n, a group of technicians and artists, including Dan Sandin and Stephan Meyers, headed by Ellen Sandor. Aids Virus and Nuclear Necrophilia are typical of the pscholograms, which are brightly colored, glow from the light behind them, and seem three-dimensional. Their physical beauty is in stark contrast to their somber subject matter--a provoking contradiction.

Frank Kulesa has made his work three-dimensional by converting his computer-generated geometrical drawings into painted masonite sculptures and mixed-media paintings and drawings. The computer origins are unmistakable, but the final character is completely changed.

Seventy years ago, Russian constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko explored the possibilities of drawings done with a compass and ruler. Eugene V. Solot's Dynamic Rhythm, an example of imagery drawn with a pen plotter from mathematical algorithms, brings Rodchenko's drawings to mind.

Deborah Gorchos's Eyes' See is a haunting, brown-tinged image of eyes from a digitized portrait that has been repeated and segmented, and then transferred onto white-and-gray striped polyester fabric.

Although she presents us with four-inch-by-five-inch Cibachrome contact prints, Kathleen Chmelewski's works seem more like delicate watercolors than photographs or computer images. Her Mother and Child and Caress carry strong references to "primitive" art forms: hieroglyphs, cave paintings, and carvings.

"Art From the Computer" provides the viewer with a good feel for the current state of the form, which is destined to become a major force late-20th-century art. But it also indicates how far the medium is from being accepted in the traditional art world. Computer work is virtually absent from commercial galleries and is rarely included in mixed-media exhibits. However, exhibits of computer art alone are becoming more frequent.

"Art From the Computer" is on view at the State of Illinois Art Gallery, State of Illinois Center, 100 W. Randolph, through September 9. Open 10 to 6 Monday through Friday. Admission is free. Call 917-5322 for details.

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