Conversations in code

Chico State and Butte College’s digital designs take over Chico Art Center

I NEED MORE COWBELL Ryan Fiscus won Best Poster for his “I’ve Got a Fever” piece, a nod to Christopher Walken’s infamous Saturday Night Live portrayal of producer Bruce Dickenson working with Blue Oyster Cult during the recording sessions for “Don’t Fear the Reaper"—"Fellas, I’ve got a fever, and the only cure … is more cowbell.”

I NEED MORE COWBELL Ryan Fiscus won Best Poster for his “I’ve Got a Fever” piece, a nod to Christopher Walken’s infamous Saturday Night Live portrayal of producer Bruce Dickenson working with Blue Oyster Cult during the recording sessions for “Don’t Fear the Reaper"—"Fellas, I’ve got a fever, and the only cure … is more cowbell.”

The Chico Art Center is housed inside Chico’s first railroad depot along the tracks at 5th and Orange streets. In the center’s all-white main gallery space, the current Digital Dialog group show features the futuristic-looking white half-domes of three iMac computers sprouting glowing screens from atop sculpture pedestals, solidifying the landmark building’s present function as an art gallery. That is, until an afternoon train rumbles through, sending locomotion through the electronic displays.

At the entrance of the digital-media show—the second-annual juried student co-exhibit of Chico State University’s and Butte College’s digital-arts and design programs—are a handful of poster-size interpretations of the words of famous typography scholar Beatrice Ward. Chico State Communication Design instructor Barbara Sudick’s Typography 002 class took Ward’s words, specifically her “The Crystal Goblet,” or “Printing Should Be Invisible,” essay and combined them with black-and-white experimentations in modern—or post-modern—typeface design, twisting and shifting the extended metaphor of the choice of the perfect wine vessel through their pieces.

“You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent.” The idea being that in the field of design, instead of asking “How should it look?” designers should be asking, “What must it do?”

Those typeface pieces are one of a variety of digitally created works that includes posters, publication designs and those three iMac stations displaying animated pieces. Though the case could be made that artists in general would be well served to give Ward’s philosophy of function some consideration, the common thread through these works is the attempt to incorporate the question of “what it must do” into creative manipulation of modern digital means.

Design is, after all, an artist’s best bet for actually making a living with visual art, and at the opening-night reception Butte College design instructor (and former Chico Art Center President) Daniel Donnelly got to meet the parents of many of his students and was thrilled to have the opportunity to validate the practicality of their kids’ work.

“This what your kid can do,” Donnelly explained, “They can actually make money.”

Thankfully, for the sake of the gallery visitor, there’s a nice balance between the specifically commercial—posters for Nikon and the movie Requiem for a Dream and commercials for PT Cruisers and Burton Snowboards—and more purely artistic experimentation. Personal faves include Butte College’s Christi Willette’s black and pale-blue digital poster of a bounding Hummer with the heading “Soldier Tough” and the tagline, “Real soldiers are dying in their Hummers so you can play one in yours,” and Chico State student Matt Bower’s Adobe After Effects digital animation of the phrase, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” The letters and words bounce, fall and fade in and out of place in a humorous ode to that most famous of Murphy’s Laws.

The best-of-show piece—as judged by representatives of downtown design firm the Fuze Group—is an untitled piece of animation by Butte College student Alan Kott. Using Lightwave, a 3D-design program, Kott has created a gilded room that looks both medieval and futuristic. In the center is a golden chalice/musical instrument with gears that rotate a shiny bob at the end of a string, rubbing a crystalline melody/tone as it spins. Next to the instrument an ancient-looking book is being blown open by a mysterious light source dancing to the music.

If it sounds complicated and weird, it is. And it’s seamless. Kott has created what looks like a little three-dimensional world, one that, in a world of Web sites, video games and digital filmmaking, actually has a viable purpose beyond just looking good.

There is, in fact, such a huge selection of pieces that you might need a few visits to take it all in. You have until June 5.