'Dada' is fun, but it isn't exactly art


October 16, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

It's possible to say several positive things about "Dada/Data." It's fun, it's instructive, it's viewer-friendly, it's both about technological innovation and an innovative collaboration between galleries.

But it's not exactly art in the most meaningful sense of the word.

Correctly called "Dada/Data: Developing Medias since 1970," it's show about the increasing use of computers in making art. Curated by William-John Tudor, director of the Image Research Center at University of Maryland Baltimore County, it's on view both at UMBC's fine arts gallery and at Maryland Art Place.

Tudor has put together a show (with catalog) of works by 35 artists from coast to coast in this country as well as from Canada, France and Germany, plus three hours or so of videos. In the course of all this, he manages to show a good number of the ways artists use computers.

These can be as simple as Hans Dehlinger's silk-screen prints of computer-plotted drawings and Gregory Little's Cibachrome prints of computer images. Or they can be as complex as Stephen Axelrad's "Self Search," an interactive audio-video installation with a narrative the viewer can take in a variety of directions by touching a finger to the television screen.

And they can be as big as Matt Dibble's room-size "The Valve," another interactive work that films you, once you've crawled into it, and shows your image to those watching a TV screen outside.

There are a lot of these interactive works, and some are fun for a while. If you can't take too much of Neil McGreevy's "Televangelist" (put on the headphones and an evangelist screams at you), try Robert Anderson's much quieter "Puzzle #12," a computer photo-construction in pieces which you fit together to make the image. Or try Stephen Wilson's "Memory Map," which asks you questions about yourself.

If the show asks questions, you may well end up asking a pretty basic one of it: Is this really art, or is simply a demonstration of computer use? As art -- that is, something that gives aesthetic and spiritual satisfaction -- these works are by and large pretty superficial. They suffer from a frequent failure involved in the use of new developments: At first, those using the development are more interested in showing what it can do than in doing something meaningful with it.

And even as a demonstration the show isn't all that amazing. Is it amazing that somebody can hook up a device so that when I put on a pair of earphones and push a switch a voice screams at me? Is it amazing that a computer can be programmed to ask me how old I am? As a show about the use of computers, this seems like pretty basic stuff.

"Dada/Data" will continue through Nov. 23 at Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St. (call 962-8565), and the fine arts gallery of UMBC, 5401 Wilkens Ave. (call 455-3188).

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