Video takes its place as art

  OCMA's new gallery at South Coast Plaza showcases digital media creations.

Simon Brown
Special to the Daily Pilot

July 31, 2004

COSTA MESA When a phone rang in the Orange Lounge, the brand new digital art gallery of the Orange County Museum of Art at South Coast Plaza, no one paid any attention for a few moments.

"Oh, that's the real phone," exclaimed Irene Hofmann, the museum's curator of contemporary art as she scurried to answer it.

The typical reaction to the ringing of a telephone is delayed at the Orange Lounge because in a museum dedicated to digital media, sounds like telephones are often part of the artwork.

But it also illustrates one of the unique aspects of the art in the lounge: the distortion of reality.

"Because [digital art] mimics things we understand in our culture like television or cinema, it can be confusing because it is neither," Hofmann said. "It requires the viewer to make his own decision about what it might mean."

According to Hofmann, digital art has been in existence since VCRs became readily available and artists began to experiment with video. More recently, that art has expanded to include websites, which is the primary reason the Orange County Museum of Art chose to open a separate gallery dedicated to digital media, Hoffman said.

"People don't want to sit down at a little desk in a museum and [surf the internet]," Hofmann said. "We were suddenly given an opportunity to have a new space and this was a way for us to bring all of this work together."

The Orange Lounge's first exhibit, Hypermedia, which opens today and runs through Sept. 26, features a variety of work, which can be experienced in several different ways. The main room contains several desks with monitors displaying Web pages and three projectors displaying video art on the walls. There is also a station for listening to audio works and a couch on which one can lie to view art projected onto the ceiling. And a second room offers viewers a combination of video and light projected onto all four walls of the gallery.

"It ultimately is a very flexible space," Hofmann said. "We hope to display both pieces, which we have purchased, as well as new pieces we commission."

One of the artists currently on display is Yucef Merhi, 27, of Caracas, Venezuela. Merhi has been creating digital art since 1985, when he first hacked into his Atari video game system and learned basic programming language. He then combined his interest in technology with his love for poetry to create a series he called "Atari Poetry," which used the Atari to display poetry on a television screen.

"I wanted to find other ways of experiencing poetry," Merhi said. "I'm dealing not only with natural language, but with programming language."

At present, there seems to be great potential for the Orange Lounge.

"I hope a lot of things for this space," Hofmann said. "I hope artists and students working in new media will find this to be an interesting place to work and learn."

The lounge is located on the third floor of the Crate and Barrel Wing of the South Coast Plaza.