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Crossed wires 

Technology and art meet at Eyedrum

A computer screen is filled with a perfect replica of a Coca-Cola can, featuring that unmistakable white swoosh and vixen red. The can glistens seductively, like a dewy starlet, as beads of condensation and frozen particles slink down its gleaming surface.

But in place of the words "Coca-Cola," the loopy white letters scrolling by spell out news of deaths in Iraq.

Artist Siebren Versteeg has created custom software that inserts the Associated Press news wire scroll (like the one in Times Square) onto that "Coke Is It!" background. The news reports vary, but when that slowly passing scroll includes details of a Baghdad bombing that kills three soldiers and wounds six, rendered in the perky white script of Coke, the effect is chilling. The work produces a shudder at the collision of corporate shilling and global violence -- this is The Real Thing.

With its terse visual elegance and technological finesse, Versteeg's "Dynamic Ribbon Device" is the wham-bam showstopper in Eyedrum's Mechanized Idea, an often provocative but just as often dead-end group exhibition that takes technology as its muse.

For so long, the party line has been that technology is our friend, our helpmate. But anyone who has ever spent hours searching for a nugget of information on the Web, or been badgered by spam about Paris Hilton's sex life knows that the technological "immediacy" and "information" referenced in Versteeg's piece also contributes to our alienation.

Take, for instance, artist Erica Warp's interactive "Misdirection," which encourages viewers to click on a multitude of gray "prompt" arrows. A click on one can lead to a screen full of differently aligned arrows, a sex site, or those haranguing, smiley-face icons that populate the electronic highway. Navigating "Misdirection" perfectly simulates a common modern experience of becoming lost in the Web's electronic maze in time-sucking perpetuity. Our electronic companion has suddenly become our electronic torturer. We seem to be at its mercy.

Also effective for how it melds technology and content is Jason Salavon's computer program invention, which allows him to merge all of the black-and-white photos of the boys and girls in his graduating class into two representative "boy" and "girl" images. He does the same neat trick with his mother's 1967 graduating class. What emerges is a blurry, slightly eerie composite -- part mug shot, part Gerhard Richter -- of "representative" 1986 and 1967 teenagers. The blend of the human and the technological suggests that despite our self-flattery about individuality, we are all spookily of our time and place, and reducible to a kind of demographic Everygirl and Everyguy.

But Warp's and Salavon's illustrations of how deeply technology's pernicious impact has bored into our souls and daily lives tends to play second fiddle to a kind of formalist thinking-out-loud in much of the work, which pales in comparison. Patrick Holbrook's "Dictionary" is typical. The work randomly matches a word from the American Heritage Dictionary with one of the illustrations that appears on the same page in a Surrealist-style game more illustrative of a visual artist's suspicion of language than anything else. Whaddyaknow: You get a chipmunk illustrating "chivalry," and "sexpot" illustrated with an image of a man operating a "sextant." Wow. Weird.

In the past, Eyedrum's group exhibitions have soared where so many others have nose-dived: L'Objet Sonore and All Small offered smart, cohesive thematic shows. But though Mechanized operates from an interesting idea, it gets a little too hung up on techie gimmicks (which strangely encompass everything from a simple wall socket to sophisticated computer programs) and loses sight of what it all means. Technology can be a missed opportunity for true communication in real life, just as it is in Mechanized Idea.

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