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Artists' Toolbox Turns High-Tech

A joint exhibit illustrates growing use of computers in prints and paintings

COMPUTER art. Whenever those words are paired, people envision different things: pretty screens, unusual printouts, special effects in video.

Now change the description to ``computer-assisted art'' or ``art using the computer as a creative tool,'' and the possibilities open up even more. Increasingly, the computer is considered more tool than technological wonder in society, and the art world is no exception. More artists are viewing the computer as an integral part of the creative process, whether it be in the planning, execution, or installation stage of their work.

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One excellent study of computer-assisted art is ``Computer in the Studio,'' a collaborative exhibit at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass., and the Computer Museum in Boston (through Nov. 27).

Serving as a microcosmic look at a national trend, ``Computer in the Studio'' features 36 New England artists who use computers to create works ranging from ``watercolor'' ink-jet prints, interactive video, and kinetic sculpture to mosaics, stained glass, and woodcut prints.

The time is ripe for this exhibit, says Nicholas Capasso, associate curator at the DeCordova Museum. The computer as an artist's tool is still relatively new. Five years ago, the technology and the affordability - specifically for personal computers - were not there, he notes.

On the flip side, holding such an exhibit five years from now wouldn't work; computers will be so commonplace that it would be akin to hosting an exhibit today titled ``art made with paintbrushes,'' Capasso says jokingly.

These days artists have an array of computers, software, scanners, printers, and video equipment to choose from, and as prices come down and technology keeps growing, the number of artists who use the computer as a creative tool will grow.

Brian Wallace, media arts exhibit developer at the Computer Museum, considers the joint exhibit ``essentially a contemporary-art survey show.'' The art world in general is still very resistant to computer-generated art, ``because they've seen a lot of bad computer art,'' Mr. Wallace says. For this exhibit, the high-tech aspect is downplayed a little. ``We wanted the work to speak for itself. We didn't want to make the computer the focal point,'' Wallace says.

The computer frees artists from such limitations as scale, size, light, color, transition, time, and space. Call it image management or image manipulation.

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``The concept that is most important to understand is scanning,'' Capasso says, whereby digital images of objects are input to computer memory, then manipulated, such as into a collage. ``It's a complete revolution in collage,'' Capasso says.

Artist Michele Turre, for example, controls time in ``Me, My Girl, and My Mom at Three,'' which shows three generations of women at age 3 in one image.

Richard Rosenblum takes National Geographic photographs, scans them into his computer, then manipulates them to represent a sort of surreal, epic-looking, historical landscape ``painting,'' such as his piece ``Sarajevo.''

Olivia Parker scans her own photographs and various objects into her computer and manipulates them in unexpected ways. Her ``Toys and Games'' series evokes the feeling of games gone awry.

Computer-assisted art comes in many forms as ``Computer in the Studio'' demonstrates: art drawn on the computer, collages, computer-enhanced photography, sculpture made with computer hardware, interactive installation, traditional media re-invigorated by computer, and more.

Angela Perkins's ``Interiors'' series shows the inner dimensions of common fruits and vegetables. By directly scanning the fruits and vegetables as well as manipulating the various images within and imbuing them with light, she suggests that there is something sacred within these products of nature.

Some of the pieces in ``Computer in the Studio'' hardly hint at computer involvement, such as Ron Rizzi's ``The Buddha's Tooth,'' part of his Tibet Series about China's oppression of the Tibetan people. Mr. Rizzi takes video stills, scans and manipulates them, then incorporates them into an oil on panel.

Works at both museums feature computers either as part of an installation or as interactive art. In ``Making Progress'' and ``The Liar Paradox (Oliver North Mobius),'' Janet Zweig uses a computer's continuous printout as a kinetic sculpture, allowing the computer to execute a kind of performance art.

Daniel Spikol and Hazen Reed have created ``Dream Wheel,'' an installation whereby viewers access videos of people describing a dream.

Viewers can record their own video, which is then stored in the program. ``If the user finds himself in the piece, there's a stronger emotional impact,'' Mr. Reed says.

In Douglas Kornfeld's interactive installation ``Who are You?,'' viewers are asked to choose body-type symbols that best represent them. Then they can record their body-image perceptions. Kornfeld also incorporates the symbols into a larger context in ``101'': a huge mosaic of internationally recognized male and female symbols (such as those you might see on ladies' or men's rooms) in various shapes.

These are only a handful of ground-breaking artists featured in the exhibit, a survey well worth investigating given the juncture art and computer technology have reached.

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