Casey Reas, “Process 18 (Image A 9,10)” (2010), pair of unique c prints

World on a Wire brings together seven digital artists in a show displaying fleeting moments of the artists’ larger bodies of work. It’s difficult to pull thematic coherence from such an disparate group of cohorts especially when the title derives from Rainer Fassbinder’s 1973 sci-fi film set in a cybernetics lab. The exhibit purports to explore “behavioral complexity, madness and simulation.” Simulation works ok, but behavioral complexity and madness is clearly Fassbinder’s territory and not this show’s metier, which should have kept it at simulation and dropped the hyperbole.

Casey Reas, who helped write the important graphical visual programing language Processing, is aware of how his software program fits in with the art world, noting when this type of work is shown without scale, it “feels as if they are diagrams.” His forms act in behaviors driven by a small set of instructions akin to a “score in music.” Many of the generative visuals that developed via simple instructions tend towards Neo Geo or Neo Minimalism, a movement harkening back to the late 1980s. In a formal sense the vectors and pixels emulate work by Philip Taaffe, though they have yet to reach the wildly unformalist Ashley Bickerton’s debauched and dystopic phase (now there’s “behavioral complexity”). Reas has interestingly turned his attention back to working with actual prints producing one  image a minute instead of 60 frames a second of a video due to the rich array of detail it produces.

Daniel Canogar, “Asalto” (2012), video animation

Spanish artist Daniel Canogar’s “Asalto”  is the most disingenuous piece, a thinking man’s Spencer Tunick sans nudity. Individuals literally crawl across a green screen, and a film of them is projected onto a facade. More and more people are added to the projection, which cycles through pure white, black, white and grey and then full color. I saw an iteration of this work in the Bring to Light! Nuit Blanche 2011 Festival in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In that large scale projection people seemed to be climbing up to the top of a building. In this 2012 version, which is projected onto a smaller screen in the gallery, there is a issue of compression, flattening of the picture plane and constrained space that is palpable. The overall sense is that of humans as ants, moving through the tunnel of existence.

Marco Brambilla is the closet psychedelic of the exhibit. His miniature depth projected moving image “RPM” commissioned by and honoring Ferarri and auto racers is decidedly of a kaleidoscopic nature. Billed as a “compelling psychological portrait of a Formula One driver’s point-of-view during a race” it seems more like the mind blasts of an LSD tripper reworked through 3D space with overtones of a crystalline Kenneth Anger film. Brambilla is best known to New Yorkers as part of the New Museum’s Festival of Ideas for the New City, with his 3D operatic and mind boggling film “Civilization” projected inside Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Nolita.

Marco Brambilla, “RPM” (2012), video, custom enclosure with iPad

Mark Napier’s “net.flag: ten years of flags, 2002-2012” is a mash-up of images of international flags by inviting participants to collaborate on the Guggenheim’s website. Over ten years in the making, the work shows the results of 23,000 flags starting after 9/11 and ending after the Arab Spring. The number one audience generated statistical idea in creating their flags was the concept of unity. To add to the review, I thought it appropriate to create my own flag which I named OddCut. The flag has to be based on previous elements of the current flag on view, so there is not that much room to maneuver. This is an early example of participatory net art brought to fruition through a long term investment by a major museum.

Mark Napier’s Guggenheim site of flags, “OddCut” (2012),  custom manipulation by Ellen Pearlman

Yael Kanarek believes numbers and language shape reality, and that the world is constantly networked through its growing and ubiquitous connectivity. “Wavelength Range of Roughly 630-740 nm, No. 7”  is sculptural, even though the sculpture consists of cut outs of the word “Red” in Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, Spanish and English fused onto a circular mandala. Kanarek is not that concerned with sculpture per se but rather investigates cognition, perception and meaning. Light waves, which come into the brain, activate a series of cognitive processes. They are molded into words that contain their own referent meanings and associations that can lead to actions, either for good or evil.

Summer group shows are particularly challenging for galleries, as they want to highlight their stars, as well as trying out emerging artists. A better approach may be less is more, depth over breath and plump it up on the artists’ background materials.

World on a Wire includes work by Marco Brambilla, Daniel Canogar, Yael Kanarek, Tim Knowles, Mark Napier, Casey Reas and Marina Zurkow and runs until August 3 at Bitforms (529 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).

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Ellen Pearlman

Ellen Pearlman is a writer and new media artist who lives between New York and Asia, where she is a PhD candidate at the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong City University.