Filter: Sorta

Consolidated Works, 860-5245.

Through March 23.

I was blathering on to someone about an artist I really like, trying to pin down why this artist's strange social experiments made the best kind of work, and the person who was patiently enduring this summed up my messy explanation in the most marvelous way: The artist, she said, had identified her own personal tendencies and acted on them.

This is one of my favorite kinds of art, the kind that shows us how the ways we organize things are personal, despite bossy clear-your-clutter self-help books. People looking at paintings (or record collections, or human behavior models) have different ways of mentally organizing what they see: Some are led through the composition by patches of light, others by lines or shapes. Some people ache to put like with like; others would rather change the meaning of "like" altogether. Glass half-empty, glass radio. One of the first articles I wrote for this paper (four long years ago) was about Jesse Paul Miller and his scavenged and transformed electronic equipment. You got the feeling, lost there in the wiring of the artist's mind, that if there were no such thing as art, he would be doing this anyway.

If Miller hadn't been included in Sorta, I would have had to boycott it. (Thankfully, he is.) This is a show about artists' tendencies, about how they apply the filter of the mind to the chaos of the world. This is a show about systems as perfect as they are absurd. This is a show that shows how like is not always like. This is a show that bowls so perfectly up my alley that I want to put it in a blender and make a milkshake.

Some of these systems are impenetrable; I'm sure somewhere there's a mathematical explanation for how British artist Carl Fudge arrives at his abstractions (which start as real objects and go through the paces of some kind of computer operation, and then are hand-painted onto canvas), but I haven't found it. No matter--half the fun is in the thwarted decoding (the other half is sheer visual gorgeousness): I stood in front of Fudge's two paintings looking for symmetry along various axes, finding only a kind of rippling I couldn't assign to any cause or effect. This work is dense and potentially meaningful, and incommunicative as a tabloid written in Sanskrit.

On the other hand, Kyla Mallet's system, in Legendary Teens, is utterly transparent: a set of interviews with teenagers in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. What's shown in the gallery are 50 framed questionnaires, most of them with photos, and let me tell you, you can lose yourself in them. It's not just the smart-ass answers versus the sincere, or the fact that so many of them can't or won't list a favorite author, but a sense of a generalization trying--and failing--to be communicated. The survey, after all, is the tool of demographics and focus groups, and Mallet's should represent a microcosm of something; instead, they are stubbornly individual. I could go on about Legendary Teens--about the number, penciled in at the top of each survey, that carries some meaning invisible to viewers, about the Heisenbergian self-consciousness of being surveyed that bleeds through some of the answers, about the rowdy narrative of life constrained by the prim questionnaire format--but let's move on, shall we?

Jeremy Boyle organizes by difference, with circuit boards that chirp like different birds; the circuits are identical in all ways but a very few, and it's the very few that create species differentiation. Pat Boas organizes by similarity, with a page of the New York Times parsed to show how often each letter of the alphabet appeared; "e" is to "q" as the population of Manhattan Island is to Alaska. Miller shifts your attention from the information delivered by film to the film-showing apparatus and then back again, from the real physical realm to the illusory physical realm of moving pictures. And which is it we depend on for information anyway?

Of course, as viewers, we bring our own filter to the filtered work, and the means for sorting information becomes the information itself. I wonder if a blown mind looks like a Carl Fudge creation?