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NewFangle: GenArtSF's new exhibition at Herbst Exhibition Hall

By Sarah Lidgus

Even after living for only six months in San Francisco, the mere utterance of the words "dot" and "com" still trigger an wave of nausea within, accompanied by flashing neon warning signs pleading with me to run far, far away­ not from the modern ghost town of abandoned live/work SOMA lofts, but from the inevitable "screw those yuppies" diatribe. Residents of the Bay Area may be the largest concentrated population to understand the ugly effects of a shotgun marriage between the dot coms and the electronic-everything craze. The result, however, is that a lot of time and energy has been spent picking at the dot com scab and then complaining that it still hurts. Can another tech-centered art show do anything new?

GenArtSF, an organization devoted to promoting young, emerging artists, is one of the latest artist collectives to jump into the conversation with a show called NewFangle featuring nine local artists. The goal of the multi-media exhibit is to present work that comments on the social, commercial and ecological effects technologies have on our lives, and, not surprisingly, a significant amount of that comment does not heap on the accolades of the tech revolution.

Most of the installations are interactive, encouraging you to pick up that phone or put on that headset, inviting the viewer to get personal with both the technology and the art. The paradox of technology as both a conduit and filter of human communication seemed to be one of the more successful ways to visually explore NewFangle's monstrous theme of technology. The results, appropriately enough, are sometimes as one-sided and empty as the feeling of cuddling up to a toaster.

One example is Rania Ho's "Modem", which she describes as "an interactive video project that grazes on the leftovers of high-speed technology". It presents itself as one of the most low-tech installations in the show: a simple 1980s-style office phone sitting on a pedestal just begging to be picked up. Once you do, a video is projected onto the bare wall in front of the phone with a series of short video clips featuring people doing impressions of the annoying static noise of a modem at work. The result is comedically ironic in its delivery, as the human voice on the other end is reduced not just to a machine, but a poor imitation of one at best. Tommy Becker's piece entitled "The Contacting of Strangers Over Items of Desire" likens modern day interpersonal relationships to that of a business transaction on the worldwide garage sale of eBay. A series of ceramic birds are displayed along with their accompanying congratulatory letters announcing the winning bid, with a few of the emails deviating from a standard form letter. One of the messages attempts a more personal connection by asking the seller what significance the bird was to her. It was, of course, met with no response. A communication breakdown. Overall the show's inability to offer new perspectives or insight is its ultimate downfall. Attacking a theme so broad with such scattered opinions risks being unproductive as a whole. A lot of the work seems to get too caught up in labeling technology with a blanket "accept" or "reject" statement. Ironically, technology falls short many times in its attempt to make communication easier, faster and better. For as the message becomes altered or altogether lost, emotion becomes the ultimate casualty of the translation.

NewFangle runs until November 20 at the Herbst International Exhibition Hall at the Presidio's main post, at the corner of Moraga and Montgomery. Gallery hours are Weds. - Sun. 12 - 5, closed Mon. and Thurs. except Nov. 19 and 20. Admission is free. For information call 415.905.6351.