Get Plugged In By 'LIVE,' the New Art Show at UC Irvine's Beall Center for Art and Technology

Alive and kicking
UC Irvine's Beall Center plugs you in

Let's assume your grandfather was born in 1900. When he was a kid, there was no air travel. A passing car was enough to bring the entire neighborhood out to their front porches to gawp. Think about how flabbergasted he must have been the first time he went to the movies, the first time your great-grandparents brought a radio into the house. Television hit when he was in middle age—moving pictures, right there in your living room. And things just kept changing. Moon landings! Digital watches! Grand Theft Auto!

Jesus, no wonder old people can be so confused and cranky. It's like they started life in The Waltons, only to find themselves living in Blade Runner.

But for all that our grandparents saw and did, it could well be that the Internet will ultimately have a greater impact on society than any other gizmo invented in the 20th Century. Some pundit once called TV the beast that ate everything. Well, now the Internet is making a quick meal of TV. It's also swallowing print media, movies, record stores, bookstores, garage sales, all that we were and all that we knew, duhn-duhn-duh. And as our old lives are consumed by it, we build strange, new lives within it. We play games, do our jobs, fall in love—all by the light of our little, glowing friend that isn't actually our friend.

The curator's statement for “LIVE,” the current show at UC Irvine's Beall Center for Art and Technology, hits you with a lot of zeroes and ones about, uh . . . live-ness. Alive-ity. “How do we define and experience what is live when the majority of our daily interactions are increasingly mediated and reconfigured by various technologies?” It goes on like that for a while, and we shall leave it for finer minds to decode. Really, all the talky-talk aside, this is a show about our relationship with the Internet. And it's really neat. (Maybe now you're starting to see why we had so much trouble decoding the curator's statement.)

Since her days as an NEA poster girl, Karen Finley has worked hard to show the world that she's capable of more than just putting food inside parts of her body that aren't her mouth. Business As Usual, her installation in this show, is a quietly horrifying thing, featuring unmanned computers endlessly twittering out the names of American and Iraqi casualities. It's an all-too-appropriate memorial for a war that just won't stop, a war that seems like it will never stop. WANT, a collaboration between MTAA and Radical Software Group, uses 900 video clips of actors to illustrate search-engine requests. It's as goofy and perplexing and overwhelming and sad as the Internet itself. The next time you use a search engine with one of those “Other users are currently searching for . . .” features, you won't be able to resist picturing the forlorn, chubby face that goes with the query for “SALMA HAYEK EATING COOKIES.”

Natalie Bookchin's All That Is Solid makes fine use of found footage from webcams and elsewhere, with a barrage of sound clips from call-in radio shows and (go figure) some unguarded moments from LBJ's phone conversations. It's like watching a dying civilization's life flashing before your eyes. Ben Rubin's Two Lanes, 8th Avenue at 40th Street, October 27, 2007 transforms a busy street into two shimmering bars in an effect that's as mezmerizing as it is difficult to describe. Like all of the best pieces here, Two Lanes is dazzling in a very understated, cool way.

Of course, there's understated, and then there's just not stating anything. Siebren Versteeg's BOOM (Fresher Acconci) reminds us of the '70s video art we're always strolling by on our way to the good stuff at a big museum, while Aphid Stern and Michael Dale's MetaVid is a website that allows you to search easily through footage of every House and Senate session since 2006. It's nice of them to have gone to the trouble, and we're sure some wonkish types will be very moist about this thing, but frankly, it seems more like something that should be available in every high school classroom in America, rather than on display as part of an art exhibit. Art isn't supposed to be useful, for heaven's sake. Utility is what the Internet is for. And Salma Hayek eating cookies.

“LIVE” at the Beall Center for Art and Technology, UC Irvine, W. Peltason N Pereira, Irvine, (949) 824-6206; Open Tues.-Wed., noon-5 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., noon-8 p.m. Through June 7.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *