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Art in Review

Friday, June 29, 2001

'POPULAR MECHANICS'

Smack Mellon Studios
56 Water Street 
Dumbo, Brooklyn
Through July 8

With its unpainted walls and creaky stairs, the 19th-century spice factory that serves as Smack Mellon's exhibition space is an ideal setting for this group show of work that is homemade, low-tech and proud.

Mary Ziegler offers an airy kinetic sculpture fashioned from plastic dry cleaner bags and hairblowers; Melissa Dubbin and Aaron Davidson have created a sort of player piano instrument from a circling conveyor belt embossed with bar codes. Sheila Moss takes the most basic approach to projected images with a spinning lantern that sets shadows playing on a wall, while Jonathan Podwils grainy films of World War II battle scenes are shot from studio models.

Mr. Podwil cheats just a bit on the prevailing funkiness by calling on digital technology in his work. But Perry Hoberman turns computing itself into a kind of folk art with an installation of outdated terminals that go berserk when a viewer approaches. Most impressive is a single piece by Gregory Barsamian titled "No Never Alone," a mysterious sculpture that comes to life--book pages fly open, hands ritually rise and fall--thanks to that old theatrical standby, rapidly flashing strobe lights.

The fact is, most of the pieces--including Mr. Barsamian's and a beetling sculpture by Robert Chambers that seems to combine a grandfather's clock and a guillotine--rely on discreetly placed sensors, scanners and motors to do their thing. But then, the whole show, organized by Kathleen Gilrain, is based on the kind of sophistication that hides sophistication, and in this case hides it entertainingly.

--Holland Cotter

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