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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poet's Flight of Computer Fancy

"Very nice," one bemused art lover commented, pointing to a computer topped by ceramic figurines. "Especially the pig. I really like the pig."

The exhibit that opened at the Guelman Gallery last week -- "Computers in a Russian Family" -- had nothing to do with pigs. It had little to do with computers, either -- at least as that term is usually understood in modern society.

But the tony bohemian crowd that piled into the small gallery Friday evening to sip wine and view the unusual display seemed ready to enter into the spirit of the event.

"The computer is a foreign machine that has been forced on Russia," said Marat Guelman, owner of the gallery. "This exhibit illustrates one strategy for fighting against this outside influence."

Guelman went on to explain, with mock seriousness, that since the time of Peter the Great, Russians have struggled to maintain their identity in the face of technological invasion.

"The Russian had absolutely no use for all of those German machines that Peter brought in," said Guelman, "so he stuck them in a corner, where they stood like works of art."

Taking a tip from the 18th century, avant-garde poet and artist Dmitry Prigov has mounted an exhibit consisting of a series of photographs showing computers in bizarre circumstances.

"The main idea is the phenomenon itself: The computer has entered our lives," said Guelman, guiding the viewer through the photo exhibit. "Look, here a woman puts on her makeup, using the computer as mirror. Or here, the computer is used as a source of light."

There are real computers scattered artfully around -- decorated with lace doilies, used as plant stands. But never is a computer shown actually performing a computerlike function.

Prigov, straight-faced, gave his analysis of his creation. "The computer is our link to the other world," he said solemnly, gesturing toward a picture showing the computer bathed in light. "It is almost like an angel."

Prigov claims that his exhibit is meant to teach people how to behave with computers: "You have to treat them as if they were alive," he stated. "If you treat them well, they can be helpful, but if not, they can ruin your world."

People are in danger of becoming mere extensions of the computer, Prigov said. His exhibit is intended to show a "taming" of the computer, an adaptation of the machine to human needs.

Prigov was a major figure in the literary underground during the stagnation years and became known for his innovative language and irreverent verses. Banned from print until perestroika, Prigov grew famous for his idiosyncratic readings and poetry "happenings."

Now a member of the official literary establishment, Prigov has not changed his offbeat sense of humor, or his need to challenge his audience.

"The exhibit is Prigov bringing a sense of irony to the computer world," said Guelman.

Passed around the gathering were sheets of paper with a garbled text from Pushkin's novel in verse, "Yevgeny Onegin." This, said Guelman, was where the computer could create a work of art.

"We scanned 'Yevgeny Onegin' into the computer," Guelman said. "The computer recognized the text and translated it into its own language. Of course what came out was nonsense," he continued. "But that's what makes it a work of art."

"Computers in a Russian Family" will be on display until Dec. 14 at the Guelman Gallery, 2/6 Bolshaya Yakimanka. Metro Polyanka. Daily noon to 6 P.M., closed Sun., Mon. 238-8492.