New York

Taro Chiezo

Sandra Gering Gallery

Using high-tech colors and materials (including transparent Day-Glo plastic and laserdisks), Taro Chiezo created an installation that resembled a space-age playroom in which the futuristic machines and materials are synthesized into deceptively adorable art. Chiezo’s brilliance lies in describing in visual terms the immediate excitement surrounding the prepackaged technologies of television, video, the computer, and the Internet, a visual analogy for the instant (and ultimately unsatisfying) gratification available through electronic media.

The four large-scale paintings in the show featured Japanese cartoon characters found in various sites on the Net. In these oil-based collages on canvas, Chiezo created a painterly vision of jumbled computer- and televison-generated imagery and the mindlessly optimistic consumer culture that produces it. The unlikely combination of “Japanimation” with AbEx techniques and a bright, highly keyed palette of fluorescent paints can be seen as a wry comment on the status of painting itself in a world overrun with computer-generated imagery. Quite apart from their deadpan comedy, however, the works are remarkable for their delectably artificial sense of color: to gaze at one is to linger in a world of lollipops, neon, and plastic.

While the paintings are formally impressive, a mechanized sculpture that creeps around its own little laser-disk-paved playpen (A Robot to Fall in Love /or not, 1994) steals the show. The robot consists of a bright red plastic body (the front half of which is a cow/lamb hybrid, the back half a globe) atop a computer-controlled automaton propelled around an enclosure of luminescent plastic by six independently moving legs. The sculpted body is a continuation of Chiezo’s work with surreal, animal-inspired plastic creatures; a nonmechanized but equally toylike work (Flying Calf Engine, 1994) is mounted on the ceiling.

Chiezo claims that the robot can react to its environment on the same level as an insect, and that its programming (by MIT professor Rodney Brooks) enables it tolearn and adapt to its environment as well as to seek out forms of life. To be honest, there’s really no way to tell what this robot is doing: once switched on, it stumbles about the enclosure, initially bumping into the plastic wall that contains it, then eventually not. (Apparently the machine has, at least on one occasion, climbed halfway over the plastic wall, suggesting there is more to Brooks’ programming than meets the eye.) By giving a piece of machinery such strange, anthropomorphic sculptural packaging, Chiezo proposes a metaphor for both the machine and the computer program.

In creating this bizarre hybrid creature, Chiezo investigates the submergence of popular technology into its packaging and the emergence of that packaging as a deceptively lifelike entity unto itself. Like “Bob,” the smiling computer face on Macintosh software, Chiezo’s strange little creature seems to have abilities, intentions, and a cuddly personality of its own; but unlike Bob, the packaging manages to elude complete comprehension: the robot’s strange body remains mysterious long after the moment of cuteness and recognition has passed. By skewing the formula of marketeers—by making the packaging itself something alien and unrecognizable—Chiezo challenges us to rethink our original impulses of identification: to question the nature of technology and the way it is “sold.”

Justin Spring