Review: VISUAL ARTS Miltos Manetas Lotta Hammer Gallery, London

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The Independent Culture
How do you paint a plastic box? Why might you want to? Well, at the very least you might wish to fill a gap. For all that has been written about the computer, no one surely, until now, has ever thought to paint one.

There are computers and computers, of course, and some more obviously lend themselves to representation than others. No prizes, then, for guessing that the first artist to paint the computer - or, as Miltos Manetas describes it, "to initiate its entrance into the theatre of reality, like Marilyn made her entrance after Warhol painted her" - chose to pass on the clunky old Everyoffice PC. For computer, read the Apple Powerbook and QuickTake (the Apple digital camera - any colour, as long as it's matt black).

Manetas was born in Athens and now lives in New York. He's worked in photography, video and performance, exhibiting in Europe and the United States. (His cuttings are generally sympathetic, although not terribly elucidatory: one reviewer described his 1991-94 Satellites project as "a performance in which the artist, along with several other men, wanders around disguised as a quintessential old woman".)

Somewhere along the way he picked up a Powerbook, and began experimenting with software programs, and then with painting the hardware itself. He learnt to paint, he says, by using the Photoshop program - "reapplying the (computer) rules of tone, contrast and texture back into oil painting".

PowerBook 1996 shimmers darkly on a mossy green ground. The Apple logo has gone distinctly post-impressionist, a carmine splodge against black. QuickTake 1996 shows the camera from the side, against lemons and greys. Andreas with Coffee and QuickTake shows its subject standing looking out of the canvas in his shorts, camera in the background.

Do the images work as painting, as well as idea? They're certainly meant to. The press sheet gamely points the way: "Perhaps after Goya, he depicts high-society figures of our times." Or, as the artist writes, "Princes and princesses have fallen from grace, of course, and so we don't have high society any more, but high-society machines."

How do you paint "high-society machines"? How don't you paint them? While Manetas refers to painting on canvas as "the Perfect Flat Dead Thing", that's surely a little disingenuous in his own case. The objects seem to haze out of their allotted spaces, wobble on their bases. They're not quite there: they're certainly not as Warhol - or any of the post-Pops, for that matter - might have represented them. (Colour, routinely disrespected by Warhol, is paramount here.)

A new floppy aesthetic for the new machine age perhaps? Or just a case of an artist having a bit of difficulty with volume? Then again, the idea goes a very long way towards supporting the treatment: though in this case not paying for it. The gallery, looking only to borrow a Powerbook, was turned down by Apple, the obvious sponsors. Not quick enough off the mark, apparently: you have to make an application months and months in advance. For Apple, art does not compute.

To Sat, Lotta Hammer Gallery, 51 Cleveland St, London W1 (0171-636 2221)

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