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Paper Rad makes art from digital debris
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Last year, Brockton's Fuller Craft Museum put on an exhibit called "Trashformations East." True to its title, the show featured works by New England-area artists with a talent for turning found, cast-off and recycled materials -- trash, in other words -- into fine art.
Paper Rad, a three-person art collective whose art-world profile has been growing by leaps and bounds, takes the same junkyard esthetic and reformats it for the Information Age. Rather than rummaging through actual dumpsters, Paper Rad's trio of artist-performers -- Benjamin Jones, Jessica Ciocci and Jacob Ciocci -- makes art from what might be called digital debris.
Old music videos, obscure children's TV shows, vintage computer games such as Pac-Man and Super Mario -- these are the raw materials that Paper Rad rips and remixes into their trademark digital collages.
A selection of these warped and wacky creations -- a Paper Rad sampler, if you will -- is currently on display at Gallery Agniel on North Main Street. The show -- which also features works by fellow Fort Thunder alums Brian Chippendale, Jungil Hong and Noah Lyon -- also highlights Paper Rad's other interests, including painting, printmaking and comics.
The result is as good an introduction to Providence's bustling underground art scene as one could imagine. And that's true even though Paper Rad's three co-founders have never actually lived in Providence.
FORMED IN BOSTON in the late 1990s, Paper Rad is currently based in Easthampton, Mass. However, the group, which is coming off recent shows at the blue-chip Pace-Wildenstein and Deitch Projects galleries in New York City, was a frequent visitor to Fort Thunder, the now-legendary art and performance space in Olneyville.
Like other multi-artist ensembles that emerged from the Fort Thunder crucible -- notably the four-man performance group Forcefield, which caused such a stir at the 2002 Whitney Biennial -- Paper Rad delights in defying traditional artistic boundaries.
A typical Paper Rad concoction, for example, might include scenes from a music video, a computer game and a television ad, as well as original drawings and animations. Many of the group's digital works also feature a combination of "sampled" and original sound effects and music.
At Gallery Agniel, where a "mix tape" of Paper Rad's digital projects plays continuously on a small video monitor, visitors can watch the group put its menagerie of quirky creatures and characters through their paces.
The same spirit, at once playful and punkish, can be found in the group's non-digital works. A chatty animated creature who narrates several of the digital-art pieces -- and who looks vaguely like a squat, powder-blue Hershey's Kiss -- also appears in Super Cell, a painting by Ben Jones. Meanwhile, a collection of cartoon faces, including those of Morris the Cat and several Super Mario characters, appears in both digital and printed versions.
Though Paper Rad clearly revels in the flotsam and jetsam of the digital age, the group's work also raises timely questions about everything from copyright law to the nature of artistic collaboration to the increasingly fluid meaning of words such as "art" and "originality."
In an all-digital world, where anything can be ripped, burned, swapped and sampled by anyone at any time, where does creative borrowing end and intellectual piracy begin?
WHILE PAPER RAD'S playfulness tends to mask its subversive tendencies, that's not the case with Lyon, whose prints and drawings proudly express his political views. One of the first things you see as you enter the gallery, for example, is a portrait of Ronald McDonald with a Hitler mustache. He looks like a member of the Hitler Youth's clown division.
Fortunately, Lyon's drawing skills match his political fervor.
That much is clear from a group of dense, doodle-filed drawings that combine a cartoonist's talent for exaggeration and caricature with a keen eye for social commentary. The results suggest something a caffeine-addled Robert Crumb might do after an all-night Red Bull binge.
Like the show's other artists, Chippendale and Hong are veterans of the Olneyville art and music scene. (Chippendale was one of the founders of Fort Thunder back in the mid-1990s.) They're also frequent collaborators, often bouncing images and ideas back and forth as though exchanging artistic e-mails.
A good example of this creative dialogue can be found in a pair of large collages that hang in the gallery's back room.
Chippendale's Where Human Meets the Future depicts a kind of surreal vegetable garden tended by animal-headed gardeners and fertilized with live-looking fish. Hong's Tree Top Trading Post is more Asian in inspiration. But the scene it depicts -- of farmers bearing baskets of fresh vegetables -- completes (or at least complements) the scene from Chippendale's panel.
By the way, both Lyon and Paper Rad have interesting Web sites where viewers can sample more of their work. Lyon's site, which he shares with ex-Fort Thunder artists Barry McGee and Mat Brinkman, is www.retardriot.com. Paper Rad's site is www.paperrad.org.
Through March 11 at Gallery Agniel/Martina & Co., 120 North Main St., Providence. Hours: Tues., Wed. and Fri. 11-6, Thurs. 11-7 and Sat. 10-5. Phone: (401) 272-1522. Web: www.galleryagniel.com.
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