Minos Manetas

Galerie Philippe Rizzo

Many artists and filmmakers, from Jeff Wall to David Lynch, have made use of digital imaging. Few, however, have addressed the technology of Microsoft or Apple per se—that is, technology as a space for the configuration of culture. What is interesting about the work of Miltos Manetas, a New York–based Greek artist, is that he envisions technology as a kind of mythology, a particular narrative realm rather than a simulacrum of the existing world (à la Baudrillard), or a vision of the future (à la Bill Gates or Bill Clinton). The digital world Manetas envisages is the distant echo of all of our imaginings, as ravaged as the aborigine’s smile in Claude Lévi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques—albeit with a touch of humor.

This was, at least, the tone of Manetas’ recent installation Whoops, 1997, an empty space painted pale yellow with an altarlike computer terminal placed in the center. The screen, which suggested a malicious electronic Buddha, turned blue intermittently; when this happened one could hear an amused, repetitive “Whoops.” “I’m not interested in working with a computer,” Manetas notes. “I’ve never done anything with a computer. I use it as a friend, a subject to paint, like a model, a relationship.” The repeated “Whoops”—a complicitous wink from a machine programmed to play on the collective unconscious of a mediatized universe—both asserts and mocks our relationship with computers. The installation left an impression of emptiness and artificiality comparable to the feeling of stupidity that overtakes you when you’ve just lost a video game; here, as in all mythologies, men are the playthings of gods.

To get a sense of Manetas’ vision, one might consider a tape he made using a video-game sequence in which a sexy heroine dodges a volley of spears in an abstract space, until she dies as a result of the player’s clumsiness. Or, one might consider his paintings: “portraits” of a computer terminal, a Quick Take digital camera, and a PowerBook. By giving an abstract and ironic configuration to omnipresent technologies, Manetas reveals their mythological poverty. At the same time, however, he underlines our continuing fascination with these everchanging universes.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.