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Arts & Entertainment

Jesse Hulcher's high-tech solo show hits SPACE gallery

| Wednesday, March 23, 2011

There are pieces about physical loss. There are pieces about virtual loss. There are pieces that make it obvious how branded, unoriginal and vacant one's creativity and personality can seem when pushed through a certain brand of computer or software. All make up the exhibit "STRAIGHT OUTTA CompUSA," Jesse Hulcher's latest high-tech solo show to hit the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's SPACE gallery, Downtown.

"I wouldn't say that the exhibition is meant to make a judgment on technology, social media, any specific company or anyone's behavior," Hulcher says. "I simply think it's interesting that most of us now seem so eager to adopt any and all new configurations of cell phones, computers or new templates for personal communication."

Even a tech-savvy 30-year-old like Hulcher admits, "I have trouble keeping up. I wouldn't call myself a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. I love fancy, new, expensive things, like many other people do, and wouldn't mind owning all kinds of brand-new gadgets and accounts. But I do find it hard to keep up and I do have trouble seeing the usefulness in a lot of it."

A native of Raleigh, N.C., Hulcher moved to Pittsburgh in 2003 to work on his master of fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University. He left in 2008 to work in New York City and says he's been "bouncing around the country since then." He currently lives in San Diego. But clearly, he has been quite busy creating computer-based art that is full of wry commentary and sharp wit.

This exhibit isn't about "look what computers can do." It's more about "look what computers have done." Walking through the exhibit, you wouldn't think it though. There are monitors, hard drives, jump drives -- even an iPhone -- everywhere.

As over the top as it may sound in terms of technology, to his credit, Hulcher provides an equal does of the analog. For example, on one pedestal, he has placed a printed copy of his eBook "Drive It Like You Stole It," which was written in a single month -- November 2009 (National Novel Writing Month) -- and edited by an anonymous Internet collaborator.

Employing as many cliches and literary mistakes as Hulcher could muster during a casual, fast-paced, almost-stream-of-consciousness-style writing session, the "novel" is a memoir of a road trip Hulcher went on with a friend. It is a wry comment on the endless stream of fiction generated in cyber space.

"Once the two main characters begin their roadtrip, the book becomes a near-endless stream, page after page, of nothing but driving down the highway, stopping to eat and then spending the night at a hotel," Hulcher says. "Twenty-eight of the 30 chapters in the book see these two characters doing practically nothing other than these three things, again and again and again."

Hulcher admits his book is "probably not the greatest piece of literature ever created." But he adds, "I'm not sure that one month is enough time to write a decent novel."

On another nearby pedestal, Hulcher has placed an "auto-summarized" version of "War And Peace."

"Within Microsoft Word, the 'auto-summarize' feature, as I understand it, creates a summarized version of your text," Hulcher says. "This version of 'War And Peace' has been auto-summarized to 1 percent of its original length, rendering a very, very lengthy piece of literature much, much shorter and much less coherent. Auto-summarize may not be a very useful feature of the Microsoft Word software."

Hulcher takes this play on the analog verses digital to the extreme with "Do it Yourself." Here visitors will find HTML code written in longhand on parchment paper with a quill pen on one side of a wall. On the other side, the HTML version of the same paper and pen is depicted on a computer screen.

"The code that I have created and physically scribed onto the scrolled parchment generates the webpage that is viewable on the opposite computer monitor," Hulcher says.

Having made fun of Internet writing, whether fictional or HTML, Hulcher then pokes fun at eBay with his piece "MIB, MIB II, MIB, MIB signed, MIB wardrobe." Last year, Hulcher went to a Michael Ian Black comedy show while wearing a woman's garment purchased from "Making it Big", a company that produces plus-sized women's clothing. After the comedy show, he asked Black to autograph his Mint-in-Box "Men In Black" DVD set.

"Afterward, I had a photo taken to document that the autograph is authentic," Hulcher says. "I then sold the two DVDs on eBay during December of 2010. The title of the auction was 'MIB I, MIB II, MIB, MIB signed MIB wardrobe,' which referenced the two DVDs ("Men in Black 1" and "Men In Black 2") both of which were 'Mint-in-Box.' "

The fact that the DVDs were signed by Michael Ian Black; and also that Hulcher's wardrobe had been provided by "Making It Big," was a play on "MIB," one of the most commonly used acronyms in eBay auction titles. "My auction featured 5 different uses of 'MIB' as an acronym," Hulcher says proudly.

Undoubtedly, the show's most poignant piece is "Web Presence," which features a monitor that displays the "live feed" of an e-mail account of Hulcher's deceased father. It continuously gets spam e-mails from companies like Coke, Hotwire and Amtrak. It is arranged opposite an iPhone that show's that Hulcher is always monitoring the account. A sad, albeit subtle, tribute that is equal comment on our virtual verses real lives.

"My father's name was Robert Gerald Hulcher. He called himself, and was called, Jerry," Hulcher says. "I hacked his gmail account by spending a few months attempting to guess his password. ... Now that I have his password, I can keep him logged into his account on a computer, which puts forward the appearance that he is 'available' online. So now, when I have him logged into the gmail account on the computer, he appears to be online, present and therefore available to contact.

"The reason for doing this is to give myself some kind of connection to him," Hulcher says. "Even though it is a virtual connection and one that cannot be pushed any further, it is somewhat comforting to see him 'available' when I log into my gmail account."

The remaining works end the show on a lighter note, however, with Hulcher having fun with everything from musical downloads to creating his own trailer for "Jurassic Park" from actual movie clips and his own text, added in iMovie.

"Some of the work, I think, is pretty dark," Hulcher says. "And a lot of it is meant to be humorous. Apparently, I haven't yet found a topic so serious that humor cannot be injected into it."

Additional Information:

'Jesse Hulcher: STRAIGHT OUTTA CompUSA'

When: Through May 1. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. -5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: Free

Where: SPACE, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-325-7723 or www.spacepittsburgh.org

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