With society’s essential structure called into question by the carnage of World War I, Dadaists began cutting and pasting at random. That project has been revived, 24/7, at 17th and L streets NW, where James Huckenpahler’s “Desktop” summons, overlaps and disperses words and pictures across two video screens. It’s a “generative” piece, which means it uses algorithms to yield ever-changing, never-repeating combinations.
The local artist calls the ingredients of this collage “digital ephemera.” The mix is heavy on text, mostly in English but with a fair amount of Japanese. Single words and commercial logos and slogans abound, along with movie titles. Jean-Luc Godard and D.C. punk bands seem to be favorites, but so are the products and slogans of American drugstores.
The mix suggests layered graffiti without Day-Glo hues. Perhaps in homage to those who first assembled newspaper cuttings into art, Huckenpahler employs muted colors and ragged forms. His video technology simulates torn, smudged and weathered paper. Hemphill Fine Arts, whose storefront space displays the piece, suggests that “like the subconscious, it reveals itself best” after dark. But “Desktop” appears as much historical as psychological.