ANIMATED GIF GOODNESS
These days, computers and videogames are everywhere in art. There's the Neen movement, spearheaded by Milton Manetas, who infamously promised to crash the Whitney Biennial. There are the Media Labs at MIT, with their wearable computers and runaway alarm clocks. And then there's the new guard of young artists obsessed with vintage cartoons, websites and videogames. Among the most prominent: Paper Rad, a collective of three 20-something artists from East Hampton and Pittsburgh, who fill their art, comics, music and books with pixels and fluorescence. With previous appearances at Deitch and Tate, these guys are suddenly everywhere at once, from the ongoing PaceWildenstein show, to Monkeytown restaurant's "Live Video Week." And one of Paper Rad's members, Jacob Ciocci, finally goes solo with a trippy multimedia installation at Foxy Production.
The central piece of Ciocci's show is a psychedelic child's bedroom no bigger than three porta-potties. This room looks as if Nurse Ratched, in a moment of generosity, let an asylum child go bonkers and play out all his interior decorating fantasies. The result? Multiple TV screens, linens patterned with lucky trolls, multiple TV screens and and framed inspirational posters, including one that features clip-art of a unicorn in a wheelchair. While campy videos dominate the space, the signs of confinement are few but chilling: a white hospital curtain, and an ominously inviting black ladder propped against the room's exterior.
Surrounding Ciocci's main bunker are video works, as well as collages of paint, found objects, and video. Though others have compared these assemblages to Joseph Cornell, it's hard to think back that far when you're staring at images of Super Mario. If anything about Ciocci's work is old-school, it's his fetishization of early websites, with their Lisa Frank colors and cringe-worthy animated GIFs.
Unfortunately, the Google cache won't let us ever live down those awful home pages, the way yearbook photos never let us forget our awful hairdos. But if anything will make you grow to love your bad-90s-website as much as your bad-80s-haircut, it's Jacob Ciocci's endearing onslaught of color and noise.
Foxy Production, 617 W. 27th St., (212) 239 2758. Through February 4.
DON'T SHRUG AT THE ATLAS GROUP
"Aw, Mom," you say to me. "Do we really have to see an art show about cultural documentation and Lebanese history?"
Yes. When it's art by Walid Raad, yes.
With photos, videos, and a lecture, Raad's show at The Kitchen might
first sound like a dreaded Humanities unit, but it's more fun than you
think. The 40-year-old Lebanese artist, whose previous shows include the
Vienna Festival and the 2002 Whitney Biennial, founded The Atlas
Group in 1999, a non-profit organization that aims to "shed light on
the contemporary history of Lebanon."
Not only are The Atlas Group's documents invented, but they depict some serious weirdos. One series of handwritten notes reveal the betting stats of a clique of Lebanese historians who happen to be avid racetrack gamblers. Rather than guessing the winning horse, these zany academics make wagers on the reflexes of the photographer waiting at the finish-line. In another piece, a film entitled Miraculous Beginnings, a fictive historian Fadl Fakhouri exposes a camera frame each time he thinks the civil war has finally ended.
Walid Raad's clearly not the first visual artist to dream up characters -- Among others, there's Ilya Kabakov, an eminent Ukrainian artist who invented a fictitious painter and Tamy Ben-Tor, whose spot-on impersonations made her a favorite of 2005. But Raad's characters, with their taxonomic obsessions and strange habits, are straight out of Borges, Auster and Nabokov. This literary tone of whimsy elevates Raad's work above the fist-pounding and tear-jerking that too often creeps into other political art.
The Kitchen, 512 W. 19th St., (212) 255-5793. Through March 11, lecture on February 28.
Exene Cervenka's made good use of her last half decade. Best known as a founding member and vocalist of X, she was a leading figure of L.A.'s punk scene in the '70s and '80s. She's also performed spoken word poetry, written books, married and divorced both X singer John Doe and actor Viggo Mortensen, and collaborated with Pulitzer nominee Kenneth Jareke on a book of Gulf War photos.
And Cervenka's an artist. Her collages and journal entries, on display at DCKT Contemporary, include everything from scribbled lyrics to kitschy comic-book images. It's a mirror of her mindset on tour; a compilation of ticket stubs, bingo cards, and candy wrappers. One of her collages says: "He saw, he conquered, he came." Like the quote, her campy aesthetic looks quite familiar by now, with its images of baby dolls, 1950s women, and crosses. A similar scrapbook now seems practically a required possession of every SuicideGirl.
But you've got to pay respects to one of punk's first priestesses. You've got to bask in the hip that was hip, before hip became giant rotating dodecahedrons and oversized video-game consoles.
Despite their explosions of color and found objects, Cervenka's collages are strangely fastidious -- trapped behind glass, never much bigger than 2'x 2'. It's as though a teacher commanded her to be wild in the space of 50-minute recess breaks. Perhaps these confines speak to the unavoidable structure and cramped space of life on tour. No matter how crazy you go up on stage (or back at the hotel room) your day's always bookended by the same monotony: Load-in. Load-out. Sound-check. Service stations. And more candy wrappers than you could ever stuff into a scrapbook.
DCKT Contemporary, 552 W. 24th St., (212) 741-9955. Through February 11.