Precious and scary
Paired university exhibits highlight computer-generated art
Don’t let Kay’s occasional memory loss dissuade you from adopting her. While her full, round cheeks and widely set eyes are physically attractive, her real charm stems from a sense of humor that lights her from within. There is an elusive intelligence in her features, too—her slightly pursed lips and raised eyebrows are set in a questioning, if not pleading, expression.
I’d better explain. Kay is not a person, nor is she even a doll. Kay is an “ebayby,” one of a selection of prints nurtured into existence and available for “adoption” by Nanette Wylde in her show “ebaybies: A Genuine and Lasting Friendship” on display at the Humanities Center Art Gallery on the Chico State University campus. Each ebayby is attractively framed and comes with a “Certificate of Rescue” documenting the transfer of parentage.
“I kind of see them as a rescue operation,” Wylde, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Art, explains. “I’ve rescued them from online auctions, and now they can find loving homes.” She laughs. “I know that’s kind of silly.”
Wylde scours the Internet for images of antique dolls up for auction and downloads a selected auction photo to her computer. She then processes the often low-quality image and prints it onto transparency film, which is placed onto a photopolymer plate.
Through a somewhat new and ecologically friendly process, the energy of the sun burns the doll’s image into the plate, which is used to hand-print the final ebayby image. What was once a transient collection of pixels and code becomes fixed—freedom for the ebayby is found in its new permanence.
But there’s more to “ebaybies” than that, for Wylde’s creations often revolve around text. Example: previous work with “electronic flip-books,” such as “Random Haiku for the Millennial Shift,” where a computer is programmed to randomly pick the first, second, and third line from pools of phrases to make a new poem every 20 seconds.
“I really think a lot about how, as individuals, we perceive and interpret information differently, and I wanted to make work that spoke to that,” Wylde divulges. With “ebaybies,” her wordplay is in the form of each ebayby’s profile, three lines that, haiku-like in their simplicity, accompany each ebayby and summarize its complex, sometimes brutal experience.
“They each have a profile, a little three-line story that they told me,” Wylde reveals with a smile. “You look at the image, and you think, what is the story of this person? I mean, look at that face.” She points to the image of ebayby “Ronald": “He looks like he’s seen a lot of edges.”
While much of the project comes tongue in cheek, the combination of damaged faces and their brief stories is unsettling and even painful. “I’m very interested in societal dysfunction, and I think the ebaybies talk about that. They’re all twisted. If you look at their faces, almost all of the images are very psychological. But they’re all kind of like, needy, too. … All the little stories, they could be true for a doll, they could be true for a human, and they all speak of something that you might not see on the surface of a person, I think.”
It is easy to see Wylde’s influence on the works of her Electronic Arts Program students in Small Colored Squares, an exhibit sharing the Humanities Center Gallery space. Many clearly have fun playing with concepts, such as the twisting of gender roles in Andre Nguyen’s “Existence” and blurring the line between reality and fantasy in Shannon Shea’s “Cowboys and Covens.”
Most of the work is from students in Wylde’s intermediate electronic-arts class, where the learning of art concepts goes hand in hand with the mastery of the technical side of computer art. "I try to get students to think about how the computer is unique as an art medium."