We've probably all been to an art show or two where one of the works was on a computer. If so, you know the routine. You sit down in front of the screen, move the little "mouse" around until the arrow on the screen gets to the right position, press the clicker, and you're off on a journey the artist has created for you.
It may involve video, still pictures, text, some combination thereof. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's instructive, sometimes it's a bore. But you usually take a shot at it, even if you don't follow it all the way through.
Right now, at the University of Maryland College Park's art gallery, there's a show that's all computer art. Called "The Digital Village," it's the brainchild of art gallery director Terry Gips and computer science department faculty member Ben Shneiderman, and it involves works by eight artists.
The problem with this art is that it exists in time, and it may take an hour or more to go through an individual work. You could probably spend days in the gallery and still not exhaust every possibility of every work, so the practicality of an exhibit like this is open to question. But from a sampling of a few of these works, it's possible to say that this unusual show is worth a trip to College Park. You'll have fun, you'll be instructed, and, yes, you'll probably be a little bored from time to time. But when you are, you can move on quickly to something else.
The best work I tried was "Constructed Forest" by the collaboration known as Manual and consisting of artists Suzanne Bloom and Ed Hill. It's about the environment, specifically forests and what we're doing to them, and it consists of three elements: photographs of forests with man-made objects of wood superimposed on them; a video of trees being cut down; and a computer program you cruise through by clicking on certain letters in the words "A Constructed Forest."
The fun with this program is that it's about forests, but not exclusively. Hit a letter and you get a selection of choices that begin with that letter. Hit "C," for instance, and you get a list that includes Chain Saw, Conservationism, Cyberspace and Constructivism. Hit Chain Saw, and you get a video of trees being cut down with a chain saw and a little history of the chain saw. Hit Constructivism, and you get an instructive, brief history of the early 20th-century Russian art movement known as constructivism.
Among the other artists, Lynn Hershman's "America's Finest" is a rifle with what looks like a telescope sight but is actually a video camera activated by its trigger. Look into it and pull the trigger, and you're killing a little child or a soldier. And thanks to another camera, you see yourself wielding this gun. This is a work that makes its point about how easy it is to kill when you have a gun.
Christine Tamblyn's "She Loves It, She Loves It Not: Women and Technology" explores how women have been deliberately denied admission to the world of technology. Joan Truckenbrod's "everydayfamily" deals with family structures through use of a family album and a computer disguised as a television set in a furnished living room. This one fell into the boring category for me, but heck -- there's a lot more to see.
'The Digital Village'
Where: Art Gallery, Art-Sociology Building, University of Maryland College Park
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (to 9 p.m. Wednesdays), 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Sundays; through Dec. 22
$ Call: (301) 405-2763