Computing 101B

Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans
FACT, 16th July - 5th September 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Remember the good old days of computers, the era of the BASIC programming language, black on white screens and the occasional friendly bleep? It was a simpler time, before the internet turned the humble PC into a fierce battleground between rival gangs of hackers and advertisers. So what has this hideous cavalcade got to do with anything?

The point that ‘JODI’ (as Heemskerk and Paesmans are collectively known) seem to have forgotten is that in those old days, computers didn’t do anything nasty when you made a mistake. At the very worst, they would throw up an error code that you’d have to scrabble through your manuals to decipher. Instead, the viewer of this exhibition is assaulted by a series of epilepsy-inducing flashes from large-scale screens, where windows appear and disappear at an alarming speed accompanied by ear-piercing shrieks and bellows. Supposedly, this retro display is intended to show how we have 'embraced failure as a characteristic shared by humans and technology'. Instead, it merely illustrates the failure of these ‘artists’ to grasp any sense of the world we live in (or even used to live in).

The second part of the exhibition – consisting of a number of booths in which computer-related videos are played – is slightly more interesting. The inventor of the mouse is shown describing his creation as far back as 1968. A series of cheesy eighties commercials inspire some nostalgia for shoulder pads and the idea that computers would somehow solve all our problems. But this is far too little to save the spectacle, especially since those shrieks and bellows drown out the jingles and slogans. Finally, video game character Max Payne points out program glitches, but the character himself is far more annoying than these imaginary bugs.

There is no doubt that some people are intimidated when they are introduced to computers, but any novices who wander into this gallery will be given a distorted idea of the technology’s complexity. I don’t know…maybe it’s supposed to be funny.