"Michael Dinges: Artifacts from the Recent Present"
The Chicago Cultural Center displays Dinges’s "Dead Laptops" and new work in scrimshaw.
Attention, would-be scrimshaw artists: Macintosh laptops make fine substitutes for sperm-whale teeth.
Michael Dinges revives the art form beloved of 19th-century whalers in this small exhibition, which presents seven computers from his popular “Dead Laptops” series alongside an engraved plastic chair and a rowboat made out of vinyl siding. The Oak Park–based artist plays on his medium’s nautical past to comment on our economy’s sinking ship.
Suspended from the gallery ceiling, Lifeboat: The Wreck of the Invisible Hand (detail pictured, 2011), functions as the centerpiece of the show and as the clearest indictment of our current financial crisis. “Reckless, reckless, reckless,” Dinges carves into the boat, in impressive old-fashioned lettering. Another complaint reads, “The right arm doesn’t know what the other seven are doing,” as engraved tentacles creep up the sides of the boat. The artist has used cephalopod imagery for years, but this seems to be a swipe at “vampire squid” Goldman Sachs.
The “Dead Laptops,” completed in 2007 and 2008, are more ambiguous, blending critiques of greed and consumerism with scientific and environmental concerns: All that plastic is poisoning Dinges’s denizens of the sea. While the slogans engraved on his computers’ covers and sides are no more meaningful than Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, the pictures that they accompany are brilliantly executed. In Untitled (2007), the artist renders a mole, sharks, seashells and a listing barge with the same startling clarity.
Macs are ideal for Dinges’s practice due to their white surfaces—and because Apple’s so good at manipulating consumer demand. Our economy used to be fueled by whale oil, this show reminds us. Now it’s powered by our belief that laptops less than five years old are obsolete.