Urban Living, at Wood Street Galleries, pointedly de-emphasizes the human presence.  | Art Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Urban Living, at Wood Street Galleries, pointedly de-emphasizes the human presence. 

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With the exhibition Urban Living, Wood Street Galleries curator Murray Horne ties Pittsburgh's revitalization efforts to the work of six artists, who explore contemporary technology's myriad possibilities. Horne's curatorial note states that "Pittsburgh's new downtown residents look forward to many options for shaping their domestic, professional, and social lives." Yet this message is distinctly more optimistic than the artists' often ironic applications of technology. 

Indeed, several works share Ray Bradbury's disquieting awareness. In Bradbury's 1950 short story "There Will Come Soft Rains," a house goes about its daily business despite nuclear apocalypse. It officiously cleans up the dog that has come home to die, and reads poetry aloud to owners who no longer exist. Pascal Glissman and Martina Holfin's tree-dwelling, limb-jiggling "Elfs (Electronic Life Forms)" and Sabrina Raaf's "Translator II: Grower" suggest such a post-human persistence. Glissman and Holfin create ersatz birds and squirrels using electronic analog circuits, but deny them any feasible avian or mammalian shells. Nevertheless, the "Elfs" tweet convincingly at visitors from their potted trees. 

Some comfort is found in Raaf's installation, which at least requires a human element. Her mechanism runs only when there is enough exhaled carbon dioxide to power it. The low-lying contraption -- which vaguely resembles a sewing machine -- inches forward, drawing green vertical lines on a paper banner and begging the question: Is this the grass we can look forward to in a planet stressed by global warming? 

By contrast, familiar technologies can make for pleasurable aesthetic experiences. Take Informationlab's "Cell Phone Disco." In a darkened room, when a cell phone is activated, a Plexiglas wall studded with red LEDs offers a fantastic display of randomly moving patterns. 

Also examining the aesthetic side of science is Roman Kirschner's "Roots." Electricity, sent through wires suspended in glowing, sulfur-colored water, creates a network of clinging crystals and champagne-worthy bubbles. A computer translates these reactions into a Schoenberg-worthy soundtrack -- no human musicians required. 

Finally, France Cadet's "Dog [LAB]" features five humorous, toy-sized robotic editorials on genetic engineering. "Dolly," Cadet's Holstein-spotted offering, is 50 percent dog, 30 percent ewe, 15 percent cow and 5 percent sheep, and suffers from mad-cow disease. Dolly's attempts to walk repeatedly end in awkward tumbles. "Xenodog," meanwhile, has two large ears growing from his back, further highlighting the absurdity of such so-called scientific refinements.

Cadet claims her I-CYBIE robots warn against cloning and eugenics, but the endearing electronic hybrids inspire more giggles than soul-searching. Cunningly cute, they make the commentary easy to swallow -- though potentially harder to digest, if only because Cadet uses electronics to illustrate the pitfalls of genetic experimentation. Still, if urban culture is truly leading away from the human and organic and toward the virtual and the synthetic, then Cadet has shown us a kind of end-game and aligned her vision with the other artists in Urban Living.

Horne's exhibition is a thought-provoking exploration of technology's still-incalculable potential, which is invariably edged with a sense of the apocalyptic. And like every good work of science fiction -- here, realized in 3-D -- the show offers foresight and advises caution.

 

Urban Living continues through April 5. Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St., Downtown. 412-471-5605

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