By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Photo by Robert WedemeyerNOSTALGIA FOR THE FUTURE ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO be. During my nephews' recent visit, when I finally laid eyes on Disney's new Tomorrowland, encrusted with its faux Jules Verne filigrees, I was once again amazed at how they just don't get it. Art Nouveau was truly hip in, what -- 1961? Now here's the corporate Disney, maneuvering for some ill-conceived inversion of planned obsolescence, pitching the future as perpetual camp anachronism while once again bulldozing the idiosyncratic and intriguingly off-register tomorrows of more recent yesteryears just when they would have clicked with the kids.
Of course my nephews loved it.
AFFECTIONATE APPROPRIATION OF OBSOLETE FUtures seems to have started in the early '70s, with wry boomers like John Carpenter (Dark Star), the Firesign Theater (I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus) and Devo (Duty Now for the Future) turning the naive techno-optimism of Captain Video and other postwar sci-fi in on itself, playing its sweet and orderly superficiality against the deep indeterminacy of psychedelic culture and the monolithic malignancy of the military-industrial puppetmasters. While it briefly made for some excellent art, this stance was swiftly absorbed into mainstream culture, becoming such a default irony as to crop up in . . . well, Disneyland.
Many of the jaded have retained a certain skepticism about the similarly boosterish claims in circulation regarding the transformational potential of the cybersphere. While I am happy to download mp3s of John Oswald's Plunderphonics onto my boss's hard drive, the vision of 6 billion happy workers lodged in their cubicles, basking in small-screen radiation, is low on my personal list of Utopias. Unfortunately, the position pioneered by Carpenter et al. no longer packs the novelty quotient needed to effect any serious debunking, or even critical examination. New strategies are called for.
A new exhibit at the Luckman Fine Arts Gallery at Cal State L.A. attempts to gather together a few such sidelong investigations of contemporary futuristic scenarios from the visual-arts scene in Los Angeles. Curated by the spousal team of Julie Joyce and Adam Ross (whose own entirely appropriate retro-futuristic landscape paintings were left out, presumably for reasons of curatorial protocol), "Post Millennial Fizzy" takes its name from Infinite Jest, the trendiest doorstop-as-novel since Gravity's Rainbow. While I have been warned clear of David Foster Wallace's weighty tome, the show's press release informs us that it involves a movie so entertaining that it puts people into comas, and a soft drink called Post Millennial Fizzy.
Given this thematic preset, it's unsurprising that most of the 11 artists in the show display a proclivity for fetishistic consumer engineering, suggesting that the future will be intricately constructed from pastel-tinted, vacuum-molded polystyrene and the like: untouched by human hands. Considering the state of the art currently in favor in Los Angeles, this hardly stands out as a daring or even perceptible position. However, the strength of this particular curation, of individuals whose work has been seen elsewhere, often to lesser effect, is that it reveals an unsuspected depth to the glossy modular design units that pepper the city's galleries.
The least aseptic work in the show is Dave Muller's Supergraphic(1999), a signature cluster of hand-crafted posters mimicking designs for other (mostly L.A.) artists' shows in endearingly fey washes of watercolor on paper. Laced with a fragmentary motif of stylized blossoms, these paintings give the impression of one of those proto-digital sliding-tile picture puzzles that eventually resolve into a meaningful image. This DJ-style mutational plagiarism neatly addresses the impending dissolution of authorial privilege with a psychological edge that teeters between egoless service and amoral predation.
Jason Rogenes also turns in a signature piece. His hovering assemblages of white Styrofoam stereo packing material, scavenged from industrial trash, reclaim their heritage of post-human fabrication and then some. Lit with integral dangling-wire fluorescent tubes, their success depends a great deal on the space in which they are encountered. In this instance, project chimera (1999) ranks somewhere toward the top, and the nice post-apocalyptic cargo-cult chill these sub-Corman F/X deliver -- looking for all the world like dimly remembered colonizing starships reconstructed from what was left behind -- hasn't been depleted yet.
Another poet of extruded polystyrene is Shirley Tse, whose stacked and intricately routed sheets of high-density foam titled Polyphantasmer (blue) (1998) was first exhibited last year in the backroom at Shoshana Wayne. This piece, whose laborious process is revealed only on close inspection, benefits from its situation in Luckman's large gallery, where the viewer's focal distance and attention span can stretch out a bit.
Halsey Rodman's The True Star Disappears in the Spot-light (1999), consisting of color-coordinated plastic "crystals" displayed in groups on custom pedestals (and so reminiscent of the traumatic Star Trekepisode "By Any Other Name," in which the entire Enterprisecrew was reduced to chalky polyhedrons that crumbled to dust when handled roughly), and David Schafer's portion-control-minded fast-food furniture grouping Cluster 38/5 random (1999) both address the arc of diminishing practicality of the human body for optimum social/architectural efficiency. The fact that these collections of furnishings are nevertheless seductively designed to our very human visual prejudices subtly equates their anti-visceral progressiveness with formalist modernism.