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information lost beyond the known world

Chicago-based artist Michael Dinges’ work is reminiscent of scrimshaw and trench art. For the uninitiated, scrimshaw began in the 18th century, when sailors started carving designs into teeth, bones, and tusks. Trench art involved decorating spent artillery shell and bullet casings to create ornamental items.

Dinges evolved from scratching images into PVC pipe elbows with an engraving needle to using a Dremel. Soon he found a new “canvas” of sorts: the plastic shells of discarded laptops. The result is the Dead Laptops Series of engraved white iBooks that are dense with images and text. The illustrations are a 19th-century graphic style but express very 21st-century concerns about privacy and the environment. He rubs black acrylic paint onto the design, allowing it to fill the engraved depressions, then wipes it off.

birds  hand

“There’s kind of a patina of experience there, inherent in the object, but you can’t have access to it anymore,” Dinges says of the lapsed laptops, which sell for $5,500.

Several were exhibited at Tekserve, an independent Macintosh computer store in Manhattan. The exhibit was the first in the store’s new gallery space and also a homecoming of sorts: when Dinges contacted Tekserve out of the blue in 2008, they sent him eight dead iBooks. In summer 2011, the wife of one of the store’s owners stumbled on Dinges’ work in Chicago and proposed that he exhibit at Tekserve.

“While we often donate [old computers] to artists, students, and noncommercial entities as a community service, we don’t often see the fruits of our donations,” says Tekserve’s Dick Demenus.

Or, as Dinges puts it: “What goes around, comes around.”

Laptop Canvases: michaeldinges.com

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