Dual-Edged Coca Exhibit Shows Man At Odds With Technology

Preview: ``Low Technology: Artist Made Machines'' at Center on Contemporary Art, 1309 First Ave. today through Aug. 12, Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., $1 general public, COCA members free; opening reception featuring the Mechanical Sound Orchestra designed by Matt Heckert, 8 p.m.-midnight tonight, $3 general public, COCA members free. Information: 682-4568.


Call it the Ill Will Games, as curator Larry Reid does, tongue only oartly in cheek. Or think of it as a tangy side dish - a chutney, perhaps - to the main course of brotherhood being served in Seattle over the coming weeks. COCA's contribution to the Goodwill Arts Festival pokes fun at the expense of shibboleths from the body beautiful to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In fact, very few of the pieces in ``Low Technology'' would ever qualify for NEA funding. Take ``Bumper, Jr.'' by Clair Colquitt, in which a transfigured exercise machine mimics the very thrust of Elvis Presley's pelvis. Philip Glass, Maurice Ravel and John Philip Sousa supply the sound track for some of the other explicit actions of the machine - and just wait 'til you see it do the lambada.

``Low Technology'' is generally pretty high tech, and Colquitt's is just one of many pieces putting a circuit-breaking drain on COCA's wiring. Another is Lorna Jordan's all-electric garden, which dispenses with photosynthesis. Below a giant saw blade resembling the head of a sunflower, five mixer motors operated by a random pattern of computer signals keep in motion a startling array of beaters, disks and other devices.

The combination of humor and serious intent in Jordan's piece is fairly typical of the dual-edged effect of much of the COCA show. While Jordan crafts a commentary on unnatural control of nature, Clayton Bailey remarks on the trappings of American femininity with ``Marilyn Monroebot.'' Baby-bottle nipples, steam iron shoe-plates, a metal tape-measure waist and a percolator head are a few of the elements Bailey has combined for his body electric.

Another human form, this one of foam inflated and deflated by vacuum hoses, treks up and down a rubber runway in ``Overconsumption'' by Bay Area artist Chico MacMurtie. The work uses an ``embedded'' computer system like those found in everything from Indy-500 stock cars to the family VCR, and MacMurtie wants us to notice its placement. High up, like a cerebral cortex, the system operates the consumer below.

A growing alienation between humanity and technology may be a major theme of COCA's exhibit, but the artists also deal with issues of timeless concern. Liz Young, of Los Angeles, approaches large-scale sculpture from the perspective of a paraplegic. Since an automobile accident 18 years ago, Young has learned about traps, wheels and - ultimately - freedom of choice.

Young's installation, ``Neglected Fixations,'' pairs an enormous squirrel-cage treadmill with a coffin-like container of water from which (during the opening reception, at least) the artist herself will operate a distant weighted cage. ``This is the stuff my dreams are made of,'' Young remarked yesterday, inspecting the final placement of her work. Her personal understanding of the human drive for expression, and the equally strong pressure of external demands, is clear in ``Neglected Fixations.''