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That '70s Art 

And now for a positive, uplifting message from St. Claude Avenue. There, at Barrister's Gallery, an exhibition of new work by digital-media artist David Sullivan offers a helping hand to everyone who wants or needs instant gratification, a group that by now includes almost everyone. Taking his cues from pop culture, Sullivan has created a new kind of video game featuring a screen that lights up with the words "YOU WIN!!!" almost immediately after the game begins, taking instant gratification to a whole new level. Who could ask for more? Methinks, perhaps, he jests, but so much popular culture resembles self-parody anyway that the line between the real and the ridiculous was never all that clear to start with. A glance at his colorful digital prints on die-cut aluminum panels reveals that icons from Pac-Man and Mario along with "violence, and everything else that money can buy" are, as he puts it, "utilized in a critique of consumer culture." That is the critical-theory riff typical of most college new-media graduates of even remotely recent vintage, but Sullivan does it with a certain flair.

Super Mega Rampage is a complex constellation of polymorphous pop forms such as bubbles, spirals and explosive penumbras of color that conspire with overlays of automotive schematics and a variety of ghostly squiggles. It's all kind of nostalgic in a creepy sort of way, like those old, faded signs and commercial facades on Airline or Jefferson Highway, surfaces with palimpsests of earlier graphics peeling and fading into each other amid layers of more recent graffiti. It also reminds me of what happens if you've been driving for 16 hours, subsisting on junk food and coffee, and then try to go to sleep in a strange motel — this is what you see when you close your eyes. Horrible but compelling, this is what highways would dream if they dreamt.

More subtle and mysterious, Power Up is another 4-by-5-foot nimbus of vaporous clouds, continents and digital artifacts like disembodied smart-bomb guidance graphics cast adrift in cyberspace, a soporific if unsettling vision that somehow reminds me of Vice President Dick Cheney. That sense of high-tech horror lurking in the collective unconscious takes an aggressive turn in videos with titles like Boom and Friendly Fire. The interesting thing about Sullivan's latest pieces, besides their unusually taut graphics, is how they actually do seem to suggest ghost broadcasts beamed from long-lost communications satellites all blending into each other in a kind of autonomous electronic unconscious from beyond the ozone layer. Nicely done.

More uplifting visions from St. Claude include a show of new work by Adrian Price and Nathalie Christianne Shepherd at the Good Children Gallery (4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427), the newest of the new art spaces about town. A co-op gallery operated by 10 founding members, Good Children offers new work by mostly younger and emerging artists. The current show is in some ways representative. Price's mixed-media series They Burned the Candle at Both Ends is mostly made up of found images from vintage pop media such as campy romance novels, old record album jackets and cheesy "70s movies. The pieces themselves are full of ironic juxtapositions that can be intriguing, if sometimes tentative, even as they convey a fairly fresh and quirky sensibility. Shepherd also "appropriates" found media from the early "70s, a time that seems to have special resonance for a number of young artists for reasons involving, as she puts it, "coloration, geometry, and apparent folksy attitudes toward lifestyle and decorum." As with Price, some pieces work better than others, but I was drawn to her mixed-media painting Warm Persephone and her series of faux-folksy, neo-geo constructions of rope and industrial materials that she describes as demonstrating "a process that subverts the original intention of the materials to become elements of mind and pattern."

click to enlarge David Sullivan's digital print Super Mega Rampage is a complex constellation of polymorphous forms like a ghostly palimpsest of advertising and pop iconography.
  • David Sullivan's digital print Super Mega Rampage is a complex constellation of polymorphous forms like a ghostly palimpsest of advertising and pop iconography.
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