From the Mouth of a Fax Machine, Information Sculpture at CalArts

You’d think that fax art would be a brand-new permutation, but this being the information age and all, fax art is already, gosh, maybe a year old. In the gotta-have-it-now world of instant communication-- the earth shakes in Malibu and, bam , TV anchors come on the screen to point at maps and announce, yes, there was an earthquake--a few short months can turn a trend into a passe fad.

Fortunately for CalArts grad student Dirk Westphal, fax mania has yet to run its course. And it’s exactly the dissemination of news and ideas and fads that interests Westphal most. (His last art piece was an “advertisement” of sorts for the presidential election.)

“How information seems to come to us from these dubious points of origin is one of the ideas I work from,” said Westphal, who was himself in a dubious location-- somewhere in the wilds of Yosemite--during his telephone interview with The Times. (No, he doesn’t camp out with a fax machine.)

The telephone figures prominently in the piece he calls “Information Sculpture,” on display at CalArts beginning Tuesday. He’s built two podiums, one for a telephone and one for a fax terminal. “It’s sort of a monument to the fax machine,” Westphal said. From the machine will emerge fax printouts of photos that Westphal shot in New York and Los Angeles for the project.


“I sort of accosted people on the street and asked them to participate,” he said. Participating meant putting on a black rubber mask (“It’s made from an inner tube,” Westphal said) and posing for Westphal. “They’re just people in everyday situations,” he said. But the click of Westphal’s camera suddenly and intentionally strips his subjects of the anonymity of the crowd--they stick out. There’s a department store salesclerk in a black rubber mask. A customer at McDonald’s in a black rubber mask. A supermarket shopper in a black rubber mask.

He compares these and his other subjects to the proverbial mouse in the maze. “It’s my take on the absurdity of everyday situations-- the mouse looks evil and ridiculous at the same time,” he said. “There’s sort of this seriousness about the project, but when you see the pictures, you really have to laugh. Otherwise, you’re looking at a day in the life of a terrorist.”

Westphal has distributed his photographs to various conspirators who will fax his masked subjects to his fax monument in the CalArts gallery. He hopes that the outpouring of paper will form its own sculptural shape.

“I wish that the transmissions could just happen by themselves,” he said. Ideally, Westphal would like his images to randomly flow out of the fax machine, much the way news from around the world seems to spurt spontaneously from newsroom Teletype machines. “To me,” Westphal said, “news has always seemed to come out of thin air.”

Dirk Westphal’s “Information Sculpture” will be on display Tuesday through Saturday at CalArts’ Gallery A402, 24700 W. McBean Parkway, Valencia. Artist demonstrations take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call (805) 253-7832.