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JODI's current installation % MY DESKTOP at Eyebeam Atelier raises everyday machine disfunction to the level of the sublime. Occupying one long wall in Eyebeam's cavernous raw space, four standard computer screen desktops are projected side by side: two Windows on the left and two Apples on the right. The screens tower over the viewer at about ten feet in height. Invisible users appear to click the menus and desktop icons in real time, but what you see are actually recordings of these activities, presumably on DVD. To stand before the screens is to be immersed in an elegant chaos.

On the far left, a user attempts to move groups of icons to other positions on the same desktop. The new positions don't "take," but instead leave grey silhouettes, which gradually become cumulative, tangled masses of icon-shadows. In the middle left, the user methodically clicks unintelligible lists of wingdings, opening dialogue boxes full of more wingdings, and so on. In the middle right, sound files are randomly triggered, filling the space with a cacophony of clicks, martial arts grunts, and punching noises. And way over on the right, the letters underneath icons become long, conjoined strings of verbal gobbledegook, which are superimposed again and again.

There's nary a pigment stroke in sight, but the scale and handling of these pieces is very painterly, specifically Abstract Expressionist. JODI's process of cyber-vandalism--tinkering with browser software and then further abusing it through excessive, mindless icon-clicking--recalls strategies of "creative destruction" familiar from the work of the de Kooning generation (build up, wipe away, leave a residue, build up again...) It's also a cyber-critique, specifically playing on our legitimate fears that information-processing technology will break down when we're using it the hardest.

The messy visual record of "incorrect," panic-stricken choices is the kind of disobedient, Dionysian use of the computer sadly lacking in "BitStreams," the Whitney Museum's 2001 survey of computer art. If % My DESKTOP could have somehow been included in that exhibit, the focus and tone would have dramatically shifted from the utopian magic of thinking machines to their ad hoc, poorly-understood nature. With its size, ambition, and (refreshing) lack of reverence, it would have been a much stronger centerpiece than, say, ecosystm, John Klima's gee-whiz videogame salute to the raptor-eat-raptor world of global capital.

- tom moody 5-26-2003 10:25 pm [link]