Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Collision Collective at Axiom

“Collision: technomorph,” a 10-artist show organized by Jackbackrack and William Tremblay at Axiom, assembles works from past Collision Collective exhibitions that address the themes of anthropomorphism and technomorphism, the tendency to describe human behavior and emotions in metaphors drawn from technology. Or something like that. Mostly it's an occasion for a sort of greatest hits show.

The most satisfying piece is “Tantalus Mackerel” by Chris Fitch of the Boston area. It invites you to turn a crank that sets visible gears in motion. In a picture frame above the gears, a wiggly metal puppet fish repeatedly leaps above a spinning wire wave trying to swallow a fly, but never gets it. I love old timey mechanical cranky animations like this. And your cranking links you to the fish – physically as its engine, but also psychologically. As the head of our research oversight committee notes, the fish seems to be swimming upstream, against the corkscrew wave, and your cranking seems also to be working against the current.

Boston-area artist Daniel Paluska’s “The Holy Toaster” (above) is a real toaster modified so that it grills the visage of Jesus into slices of bread – like one of those homey miracles that you always seem to hear about. It’s a dry joke on faith and manufactured miracles. Also fascinating was William Tremblay and Rob Gonsalves' robot wave in a box, articulated by long spidery arms.

Western Massachusetts artist John Slepian’s “Caged” (above) features a video of some spiny critter mewing and breathing heavily behind the real cage wall of a real box. It appears that a sensor above the caged video screen monitors visitors and causes the video creature to hurl itself forward, at which the real cage rattles. The shift from video to physical violence – like Roger Rabbit bridging cartoon and reality – is startling. But after the initial shock fades it feels like a gimmick.

“Organ Organ” by Eric Gunther of greater Boston invites you put on headphones and lie down on a bed of pink cylindrical cushions resembling furnishings from a ‘60s sci-fi flick that vibrate in time to breathy beeping digital sounds. It’s a neato technical effect but never rises to something more formally or conceptually substantial.

Too many of the pieces fall into this familiar new media trap of gee-wiz gadgetry trumping substance. The Collision Collective’s shows are often exuberantly hit or miss, more laboratories for ideas than smoothly functioning art. The participants come at art from a different angle than what you usually see in galleries, where artists often master a craft (painting, sculpture, photography) and then use it over and over to make their point. This can lead to intellectual ruts, which the Collision folks mostly avoid because of their laudable dedication to invention, to engineering new machines and software. Their results are often thrilling and surprising, and even failures are frequently interesting. But the investment in invention can also suck up the time and energy needed to make the work meaningful.

“Collision: technomorph,” Axiom, 141 Green St., Boston, Aug. 10 to Sept. 8, 2007.


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