We Are All Robots

Playful obsolescence

If there's a unifying theme to the work you're likely to see at Rotten Meat Gallery from show to show, it's the exalting of regional artists whose work stands free of pretension and embraces an experimental, sort of indie-rock aesthetic.

With Obsolete, happily, we get more of the same. Gallery co-owner Dan Miller's first exhibition in his own space capably lives up to these standards. In his collection of paintings, he renders a series of robotic characters in a cartoonish style, yet still manages to inspire real pathos. Pixar, Miller has your number.

At its core, Obsolete meditates on the costs of technological progress. A lifelong Clevelander, Miller reveals genuine affection for traditional incandescent lightbulbs, cassette players, and the toys of late Gen X and early Gen Y. But even he finds himself taken in by new toys, guiltily admitting to conducting interviews via iPhone.

"I think our generation has watched the unfolding of technologies much more than previous ones," he says.

Here, he symbolizes old toys that fall to the wayside in favor of newer, shinier ones; in this way, he humanizes things discarded, telling stories from their perspectives. The previous generation's favorite gizmos sprout arms and legs, only to use them to wander about a world that has no use for them anymore.

The stories, told in paintings, are all untitled, save for serial numbers. In one, a lightbulb-headed droid sits examining the cord protruding from its backside. It tilts its head in thought, as if wondering where it will plug itself in. Another 'bot dangles from a wire nailed to a wall, its arm stretched at a grotesque angle, eyes wide and stunned, staring downward.

Even Miller's choice of materials continues his exploration of the oppression of unrelenting progress. While the robots are rendered in traditional oil paints, they are set against looming backgrounds of newfangled acrylic.

Cute as his subjects are, Miller makes us feel his machines' loss and confusion — also, perhaps a little guilt at having abandoned their real-world counterparts. Miller's chief accomplishment is in reminding us of the real affection, deserved or undeserved, we can feel for our things.

An opening reception will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, April 6, and the exhibition runs through April 27 at 1814 East 40th Street, Suite 4B. At 7 p.m. on April 10, author Sam McPheeter will give a reading from his dark comedic novel The Loom of Ruin. E-mail [email protected] or visit them on Facebook to learn more.

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