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Lost in Translation 

Struggling to describe the impact of the digital age on art.

So give the curators credit for trying. But given the complex theme — which is never clearly expressed in the program, online, or anywhere else — it's hardly surprising that the show lacks focus.

When pressed with the question of the exhibit's theme, Baldes explains, "The screen world, the software world, informs this new visual." Grasping for more specific words, he elaborates: "I'm going through the history of art again. I'm learning so much, and this is, in one way, a representation of that."

Which doesn't tell you much.

So we know it's about the impact of the Internet — the catalog touts the curator's blog (www.pulse2006.blogspot.com), created to facilitate communication, as the show's most innovative aspect — but what else? A glance around the gallery clears things up a little. Works by six very different artists cover the walls and floor, and each piece integrates modern and traditional artistic processes.

Particularly intriguing are three quilts by Californian Anna Von Mertens. Bands of Care Bearlike colors overlay backgrounds of white that are perforated with all-over, stitched patterns drawn from the artist's experiences. One, for example, represents the currents of the San Francisco Bay. The juxtaposition of Old World methods of textile production (the colors are hand-dyed) and clean, geometric — dare I say modern — designs elegantly merges the old and the new.

"Pulse2006" is visually coherent, even if its theme is difficult to nail down. The bands of color on von Mertens' quilts harmonize with the color fields in Rachel Hayes' installation sculpture and Chris Ashley's "drawings" opposite the gallery. Hayes, the only local artist in the show, stitched translucent acid green and soft blue vinyl panels together to form a sort of tent — "a grown-up fort," in the words of Baldes — which also forms a pattern on the supporting wall, cleverly fusing sculpture and painting.

While Hayes' work merges traditional techniques, such as sewing, with modern materials, Ashley's work is all digital, all the time. The California artist/programmer uses HTML rather than charcoal and a monitor instead of paper to create his "HTML drawings." To view them, point your web browser to http://chrisashley.net/weblog, where Ashley exhibits a different drawing daily, made entirely of HTML code rather than, say, JPEG images. Though the drawings seem to lose their novelty in the printing process, 1708 will have a digital installation to supplement the mounted paper versions.

The show also features works by New Yorker Brad Hampton, who photographs his own paintings, alters them with Photoshop and reapplies them to the canvas, where they become abstract versions of their former selves. His fluency in modern and traditional techniques perhaps emphasizes the point of "Pulse2006" more clearly than does the exhibit's own rambling program and catalog. Steve Karlik also gets it, simplifying his paintings to two contrasting color blocks and one wood panel, grain intact, in a lucid statement on the ability of color to create depth.

If Hampton communicates the show's point succinctly, Lisa Fletcher Rundstrom doesn't know when to stop. Her ephemeral installation — "Long Hot Summers, Long Cold Winters," a scattering of translucent, colorful bags filled with water and illuminated from below — creates a virtual landscape of mundane objects transformed into something beautiful. Yet their meditative quality is dashed by a visit to the artist's Web site (which, as a link on the curators' blog, is also part of the show), where Rundstrom's statement mutilates the calm profundity of her works. Apparently there's a "power struggle" going on between the "heroic notions of the art object" and "their anti-heroic fallibility."

Which doesn't mean much. S



"Pulse2006" runs through May 27 at 1708 Gallery, 319 W. Broad St. Call 643-1708 or visit www.1708gallery.org.



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