- Jesse Hulcher's "Having the time of Our iLIfe '11"
As long as we've had digital culture, we've been enumerating its foibles. But with his wittily titled Space Gallery solo show STRAIGHT OUTTA CompUSA, Jesse Hulcher locates a few of the charlatans behind those virtual curtains with particular sharpness and concision. Or at least, he shows how a technology can't be any better than its users.
For instance, everyone bemoans spam; Hulcher puts his iPod Touch displaying its Gmail readout under glass. "Web Presence" also includes a monitor displaying his deceased father's hacked Gmail account, still racking up messages from good pals like Barack Obama, Major League Baseball and the NRA Wine Club ("free shipping"). Behind the stand, speakers offer the sound of waves pounding surf (both plangently and mockingly echoing the stock art on the web page). It's performance art in absentia.
Elsewhere, the book "Having the time of Our iLIfe '11" showcases pixilated, dimly lit images of people staring dully into webcams. (Some images are reprised elsewhere on a video monitor, with barely animated chatroulette.com shots emphasizing the ennui.)
Other works parse the difference between virtual and real life, and find the former lacking. "I'm a wiz with computers" is a wall-mounted monitor depicting an animated tabletop fan -- while an adjacent floor fan breezes you, and the computer mouse hangs nearby, apparently useless.
Several pieces, in fact, imply an interface that's actually unavailable. The black-screened, control-knobless "DVD Player" seems to ask whether digital promises cost us more autonomy than we've gained. Other works suggest that some real interfaces are best left unused. "Drive It Like You Stole It" is the unreadable novel Hulcher "wrote" for National Novel Writing Month using Professional Writer '92, while War and Peace "autosummarized using Microsoft Word 2008" totals 29 pages. ("The Princess rose. Seeing Anna Mikhaylovna and her son, Prince Vasili.")
A few works, like an amusing re-edit of the Jurassic Park movie trailer, feel like shooting digital fish in a virtual barrel. But mostly, Hulcher displays an uncanny ability to summarize in a quick jab what digital living can cost us.
In CompUSA, Hulcher achieves this most poignantly with "The Shaggs' Philosophy of the World with Auto-Tune." Digitally flattened into a weird warble, the sister-act rock band's cult-favorite 1969 album is now quite on key -- and quite devoid of anything resembling humanity, charm or the band's unique brand of guileless inspiration.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPUSA continues through May 1. Space Gallery, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7723