Picture Perfect

Digital technology blurs the real, the imagined and the meaning of photos as art

But perhaps technology's great appeal is that it allows you to get rid of your personal memories. In exchange, of course, it gives you many other memories, many other minds, many other selves. The downside for those occupying the heights of digital reality is the extermination of human memory and sensibility. After all, nothing is for free. For every gain, something is lost -- with virtual reality comes the possible loss of actual reality. Our senses are stimulated by total simulation. Some become technological fetishists, addicted to technological euphoria.

While most of the works in "Metamorphoses" buy into a crusading spirit for a technical apocalypse, they also revel in a kind of mythic primitivism. Futurism and nostalgia, utopia and decadence, frontier mentality and the electronic frontier -- it's all a bit schizophrenic. The pictorial tensions created by James Nakagawa, Deanne Sokolin, Paul Thorel, Shelly J. Smith, Eva Sutton and others are absorbed from a number of disparate sources: they recall such modernist experiments of the 1920s as Francis Brugiere's multiple exposures and John Heartfield's photomontages as well as slick TV and magazine advertising. A number of works display a connectedness of forms that has a dreamlike coherence. Others seek to capture the experience of being physically present but emotionally distant, alienated from self, culture, body, sexuality or spirituality.

Pedro Meyer's vision of the Mixtec people of Oaxaca is a magical world of bright colors and floating figures, a world where one constantly experiences the extraordinary within the ordinary. For El Santo de Paseo (The Strolling Saint), a statue of a saint casts a shadow as it silently hovers alongside a blue wall. In La Tentacion del Angel (The Tempatation of the Angel), a tiny old woman carries a burning bush as she strides across a tabletop toward a young girl dressed in an angel costume. For her part, artist Martina Lopez uses computer technology to fabricate dreamlike landscapes. Reassembling old family images and fragments of snapshots, she aims to unhinge time in a way that reflects the personal experiences of both artist and viewer.

To suggest the elusiveness of visual experience is to call for unexpected approaches to image-making. The complexity of that task suggests why the most interesting works in "Metamorphoses" emphasize the provisional quality of their imagery, celebrating the fragmentary and the bizarre. All too often, however, the artists succumb to playing with technology for its own sake. Rather than create visual epiphanies that suggest subjective ways of seeing, these artists are obsessed with the clean, high and dry -- a cold veneer that exhibits a glossy falseness.

Overall, the digital domain seems very neurotic about cleaning up reproduction, as opposed to the dirt, dust and general messiness of the analog. A lot of computer art is, in fact, really about computer gadgetry: the intent just doesn't merge with the concept. It may attract attention for its extraordinary potential as a tool, but glitzy technology can never substitute for stridently charged subject matter and genuine artistic expression.

"Metamorphoses: Photography in the Electronic Age" shows through July 30 at the Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, entrance no. 16 off Cullen. 743-9530.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help