File Type at Gallery 400
Casey Reas and Kristin Lucas are among the artists exploring how digital files shape artistic practice.
In 2007, artist Kristin Lucas succeeded in changing her name to Kristin Lucas. “I am here for a refresh,” she told the bemused judge considering her request.
Lucas’s name change, chronicled in her artist’s book Refresh (2011), couldn’t be lower-tech. But her project, in which she compares herself to a Web page needing an update, brilliantly reminds us of the strangeness of software, and how computers alter our assumptions about identity and self.
“File Type,” which presents Lucas’s work alongside new-media experiments by 15 other artists, sets out to examine “the relationship between electronic formats and artistic practices,” according to cocurators Lorelei Stewart and Chaz Evans. But if you don’t already understand the distinctions among digital files, the show won’t help you grasp what happens when a JPEG becomes a PSD, which is converted to a JPEG, as in Wes Kline and Todd Mattei’s enigmatic photographs. And a few too many pieces illustrate how information degrades as a file changes format.
“File Type” is most effective at demonstrating how programming is becoming an artistic skill. Siebren Versteeg’s dazzling drawing Inexhaustible Nuclear Joy Kernel (Black) (2009) was randomly generated by an .exe file of the artist’s invention. Another UIC alum, Chris Meerdo, uses a script to transform the encrypted WikiLeaks file insurance.aes256 into Cipher (2011). Meerdo represents the infamous file’s binary code as a grid of black and white pixels nearly 30 feet long and more than eight feet high. As it confronts us with a cache of presumably damning, classified documents—which we can’t read—Cipher embodies the freedom and helplessness of the Information Age.