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ART OUTSMARTS COMPUTER

Rimma and Valerie Gerlovin,
at Steinbaum Krauss Gallery

Copyright Flash Light 1995

I witnessed an art work defeat a computer at the opening of a show by Rimma and Valery Gerlovin at Steinbaum Krauss Gallery. (152 Greene St. May 6 - June 17)

The Gerlovins' work in this show consists mostly of photographs of Rimma in which her flesh serves as a canvas, reminiscent of Dennis Oppenheim's conceptual work with body art. But there are differences: Rimma extends the metaphor by braiding her hair into graphic images. More significantly, where Oppenheim's photos were deliberately crude to emphasize that they merely documented a concept, and were not meant as art objects, the Gerlovins' photographs are lavish: vivid color enlargements in custom made frames, and the shapes of the frames, in turn, are part of the dialog in each work.

What has attracted my attention is a piece in which numbers appear. Along her legs: 12345678987654321. Across her torso is a series of nine ones, followed by an elevated two. I try to make sense of the image. I don't recognize a mathematical progression. If the number is merely a sequence from one to nine and back, what has that to do with the nine ones?

I feel there is some portent to resolving this riddle, the solution some confluence of art and science. The work has me in its grip until Valery explains, "The number on her torso squared yields the number on her legs."

"Ah!" I marvel at the symmetry.

"Let me check that," interjects Bob Armstrong who's standing nearby. He removes a laptop computer from his backpack. It's a CoSy and it runs APL on a 486. I learn that A Programming Language was created at IBM Watson Research in the 60's, and it's favored by financial analysts. Bob punches in the numbers and the screen responds "1234567899E+16.

"Scientific notation, it's rounding up the last digits to nine," I appraise his efforts.

"Yes," agrees Bob, "Let me increase the resolution." This time the screen yields, "12345678987654323."

"Another rounding error?" Bob suggests.

"Impossible," I object, "even if thatwere a simple rounding error the last digit would be a two or zero, but it's three, so either the computer is wrong or the art is wrong."

We turn to Valery, "I got the equation from a math textbook," he responds.

"How can we check this?" The perfection of the symmetry makes me doubt the computer.

"It's trivial," Bob interjects, "the computer has to be wrong. The last digit must be a one because we're multiplying a number that ends in one by another number that ends in one."

"Brilliant," I concur.

"I'll put this out on the Internet and see if I get anexplanation."

I turn to Valery, "We used a computer to check your art, but your art undid the computer!"

Valery just smiles enigmatically.

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