Promises, Promises

Cyborg Manifesto steps back to the future

Photo by Jack GouldThe Laguna Art Museum's low-tech, Luddite approach to the future—one that even the Unabomber could love—would be okay, I guess, if the fine folks at the museum weren't luring people in with millennial promises of shiny, silvery cyborg futures. Oh, how we want a House of the Future to look forward to, despite the fact that we already have phones in our shoes now and doors that unlock themselves with the beep of a button. It's just not enough. We want meals that rehydrate themselves into juicy hamburgers and robot slaves. We don't, however, want cloned sheep. There's a general, creeped-out consensus that playing God will lead to Bad Things—Very Bad Things. But silver lamť and robot hotties? Yes, we would like some of that, please.

Of course, that isn't what the museum is delivering in "Cyborg Manifesto, or the Joy of Artifice." Instead, we get Teddy bears and Tupperware. Hmmm.

But although the Teddy bears and Tupperware aren't shiny and sexy and thrillingly high-tech, they at least play along with the stated theme by sculpting themselves into Frankensteins (the original cyborg) and computers. Half of the works in the exhibit don't have a damn thing to do with it. And while some of the work that doesn't belong is excellent when standing alone, what's the purpose of a theme if half of it doesn't jell?

One could say that the works that don't deal with cyborgs instead deal with the "artifice" half of the title, but any painting or sculpture would by definition be equally artificial. It's not an actual 20-foot man we see in Michelangelo's colossal David; it's a representation of a 20-foot man. Equally, when one slaps paint to a canvas and depicts, say, a bowl of fruit, it's not a real bowl of fruit on the wall. Duh.

Doug Buis' Suburban Legends, for example, is a nifty dollhouse set (abandoned, its tables upended) through which one can look out the window and see rolling golden hills in the background, like a pre-Segerstrom-and-Irvine OC. It's lovely. But are they real rolling hills? No, they are not! They are fake rolling hills! It's an awesome piece, especially when one goes around to the side and sees the wires and pulleys by which Buis makes his sycamore tree sway in the lack of breeze. But it has about as much to do with cyborgs as my ass does. Less, in fact, because my ass at least could be the "before" in a human-to-cyborg before and after. Or, my ass looking as good it does—now that I think about it—it could be the "after."

Curator Tyler Stallings, of course, manages to explain how these disparate elements all tie themselves together in his typically brilliant catalog essay. But as he himself told a visiting group of students looking at the "projectors" carved from tree stumps, "It's a stretch, I know. But I wanted to include it." That's all well and groovy, and if Stallings were to curate a show called, "Stuff Tyler Likes and Wants to Include," I would be first in line with a fat smile on my face. Stallings has good taste, after all. But this is supposed to be a show about technology in general, cyborgs specifically. And, oh! I feel so used!

The best of the show, ironically, is the bit for which Stallings has received the most crap. The Orange County Register's Richard Chang included in his review of the exhibit a long sidebar of Stallings' inclusion of his live-in girlfriend, Naida Osline, in the show. But of all the myriad pieces—there are works by 26 artists—Osline's is both the goriest and most justified. Her small Polaroids take sections of a human body and add cosmetics until things that really shouldn't be there—like what looks like a rat tail slithering out of a man's hairy navel—are indeed there. Another is a back with what looks like wormholes and the wounds from burrowing larvae. They're very alien, and just as creepy and sinister as we'd expect from a show about man's and nature's relationship with technology.

And there are other pieces that do fit into the theme—like Jen Zen's salty moonscapes with primitive, red-metal beings about to fight on the flats. But I've seen the same piece done at UC Irvine's Beall Center for Art and Technology, and I've seen it done not just purtier, but interactive, too! Oh, for a joystick and a mouse—or a robot hottie all silvery and new. Now, if you'll excuse me, my shoe is ringing.

"Cyborg Manifesto, or the Joy of Artifice" at Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971; www.lagunaartmuseum.org. Through July 8.
 
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