The Mattress Factory exhibit Predrive: After Technology uses digital means to flout digital technology's seeming omnipotence. Instead of celebrating virtual culture's determined advance toward transcendence of the physical, the five artists chosen by curator and Carnegie Mellon art professor Melissa Ragona concentrate on revealing technology's shortcomings, absurdities and awkward origins. Nowhere in the exhibition is a visitor able to lose herself in the display. Yet rather than demonstrating technical inadequacy, this is proof of conceptual triumph.
New York artists Jacob and Jessica Ciocci (a.k.a. Paper Rad) set the mood with the sprawling multimedia installation "The Darker Side of Light." If Predrive were a religious text, Paper Rad's work would be its Genesis story. The first-floor space has been converted to a giant '80s rec room complete with plaid couch, improvised curtains, broken televisions and subwoofers, mildewing stacks of VHS tapes, and kitschy ephemera. Here, Ataris first hooked us on gaming culture.
The unsavory domestic detritus suffuses the space with a sinister vibe. While several damaged televisions hum with tinny electronic scores and seizure-inducing animation, on the opposite wall a battle rages: sheets of painstakingly marker-tinted graph paper advance on larger, hand-painted squares. From afar, this reads as destructive television static attacking giant pixels. Nearby, a huge green Styrofoam hand, referencing a cartoon witch, halts a series of framed collages, having knocked several to the floor.
The segue from Paper Rad's tableau to the rest of this exhibition in the Mattress Factory's 1414 Monterey annex is Los Angeles illustrator Takeshi Murata's video "Homestead Grays," a title enigmatically referring to Pittsburgh's old Negro Leagues baseball team. The black-box gallery in which the video plays on a wall-sized screen transports the viewer into what might have been an absorbing virtual experience. But Murata mocks our conditioned expectation with his hand-drawn animation. Initially small and spare, gray-on-black abstractions suggest a primordial soup from which single-celled organisms emerge and develop, growing to resemble Atari's 1970s game Pong, and other early monochrome arcade visuals.
From French artist Antoine Catala comes a commentary on television culture. In "TV Blobs," network programming is perverted into giant, largely amorphous projections that suggest bulbous molecules. Interestingly, CNN continuously feeds onto the right wall, while classic television favorites, such as The Jeffersons, appear on the left. In "Pumpkins," Catala films neighborhood children playing 20 Questions, but when the camera focuses on each child, the kid's image breaks down, becomes abstracted and grows pixilated. Here, technology seems to willfully collapse.
In "Switch," recent Whitney Biennial participant Gretchen Skogerson references Mattress Factory permanent-collection works by James Turrell, who has admonished viewers to "experience the light." Yet Skogerson prevents total immersion with Brechtian twists: The illusion-inducing florescent lights are, unlike those in Turrell works, conspicuously mounted. They flicker. Their color is purposely inconstant. Skogerson's "Jump" -- principally comprising a thin and flexible incandescent bulb called an "El wire" -- lights up the near-dark of the third floor stairwell. However, its source is partially visible, breaking the illusion.
With his "Judgment Modification (After Memling)," Mexican-born New Yorker Brody Condon expresses his interest in gaming's simulated trauma and our cultural tendency toward apocalyptic thinking. Re-appropriating Hans Memling's c.1471 triptych, "Last Judgment," Condon translates Memling's hellfire -- now an uncommunicative cliché -- into extreme language desensitized contemporary viewers recognize: a burned body, a man performing his own hand-drilled lobotomy, a giant komodo dragon, naked dancers. It's a game, yet not one that directly engages us. It is silent, plays on its own, and lacks any trance-inducing soundtrack.
Technically, a "predriver circuit" reduces power consumption during energy transmission. So, although we're often reminded of technology's failings when we're unable to load a Web page, Ragona's Predrive conceptually lessens the authority of a field that grows more dominant and vampiric every day.
Predrive: After Technology continues until April 5. Mattress Factory 1414 Monterey St., North Side. 412-231-3169 or www.mattress.org.