There is a great scene in Mike Judge's film Office Space in which a trio of oppressed suburban computer programmers strikes back at an incessantly malfunctioning printer. In true Mafia fashion, they stuff it into the trunk of their car and take it for a ride. After carrying it to the middle of an empty field, they proceed to beat the shit out of it with a baseball bat, all to a thumping rap soundtrack.
As fantastically satisfying as that revenge scenario can seem, there may be another option for coping with faulty office equipment: The next time technology undermines you, pause before you bludgeon the copier, and consider the abstract aesthetic qualities of your 380 streaked pages. Photocopiers, scanners, faxes, laser printers and the like have expanded the ways in which we can reproduce and disseminate images, but technology also has changed the way we see things via digitized or photocopied images, particularly through the malfunction of said technology. Two exhibitions at Inman Gallery, the paintings of John Pomara and "BibliLOtech," a collection of artists' books, are visually and materially indebted to the mechanisms of photoreproduction.
Looking at Pomara's work prompts a subtle visual déjà vu. They're abstract paintings, but they vaguely resemble the "images" produced when your fax malfunctions or the copier's toner cartridge craps out. Working with the same material components used by Paleolithic man -- pigment mixed with binder and applied to a surface -- Pomara creates images culled not from the natural world but from the inadvertent expressionism of mechanical glitches.
The paintings of John Pomara/"BibliLOtech"
Inman Gallery, 1114 Barkdull
Through Saturday, April 14; (713)529-9676
Created on rectangular sheets of aluminum, instead of canvas, the paintings are coated with oil-based enamel that looks baked on and has the same sleek sensuousness as a glossy automotive paint job. The paintings are primarily fields of solid color interrupted with horizontal streaks and smears that reveal underlying color. The works in the Group Serve series (nos. 1-5, 2001) have slick white surfaces with linear blurs and streaks of black and lime-green. Pomara pushes back the white surface with a variety of squeegeelike tools to reveal underlying color. The row of white paintings becomes a little repetitive, but the black fields of the other paintings fascinate. In On Line (2000), blips and smudges of color emerge from a void painted in a gorgeous porcelainlike black, with lines and strips scraped to reveal streaks of celadon green, white and the glinting aluminum panel beneath. The works are almost cinematic as they convey a blur of rushing movement, capturing some indescribable aspect of contemporary life.
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In the back gallery, photoreproduction technology again comes into play -- only this time through its ever-expanding capabilities and increasing accessibility. "BibliLOtech" is a collection of artists' books curated by Brooke Stroud and Tim Litzmann, whose only stipulation was that the methods of "book" production be relatively inexpensive (hence bibli-LO-tech). Today, anybody with ten bucks and a ride to Kinko's can create a bound book with color images. Graphics software, scanners, inkjet printing and new archival inks and papers allow for inexpensive but high-quality output from your home computer.
Books make for intimate artwork; they become objects to be touched and perused at leisure. Your response to something you can hold in your hand is different from your response to a wall-mounted image. Keeping this in mind, artists often play fast and loose with the concept of a "book." Working in the pop-cultural zone, Emily Joyce makes a clever transition: She takes the vibrant shapes of her vinyl cutout paintings and transforms them into temporary tattoos -- 100, to be exact. They come in a neat little plastic box and allow you to stick her work to your body as well as your walls.
Glorifying the most mundane of the mundane, Melissa Thorne creates a witty accordion-folded card bearing scanned color images of 9 brown potholders (2001). They're pot holders and they're brown! Shooting for eroticism, Mark Allen's book of Turn-Ons (2001) is accompanied by an adult content warning. The book format works well with these photocopied line drawings, on heavy cream-colored paper, depicting bound, naked, semi-naked and fellating women. The elegant/awkward drawings are really nice, but the bratty-boy, self-consciously un-PC subject matter gets a little tiresome.
Skipping a trip to the copier, Marco Villegas's Palm, line drawings (2001) are hand-drawn with tiny delicate horizontal pencil lines. The soft fuzz of graphite on small pages of heavy paper is engaging in a way that a copy might not be. Paper quality makes a big difference, especially with the more minimalist works. Minimalist or abstract images that work well in other media can get boring when viewed on one page after another, particularly if you don't have the surface "grab" that's an integral part of many paintings. Daniel Villeneuve's Twins 2001 (2001) is fairly successful as he repeats the same bisected rectangle on each page, starting with beige and ending with saturated magenta, in a kind of visual/ literary climax. Less successful is Tim Litzmann's Untitled Algorithm (2001); it isn't served well tactilely or visually by the standard-sized card stock, and his graphic series of lines and circles isn't that satisfying.
John Pomara has borrowed visual effects from the mistakes of our photocopying technology, while the artists of "BibliLOtech" have used the same machines to create inexpensive artwork. As technology continues to expand its capabilities and becomes even more accessible, our dependence upon it will increase, which of course increases the chances for further sabotage. We embrace our technology when it behaves but berate it when it fails. It's that love-hate relationship with our Epson.
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