To be an innovator in today's art world takes more than skill, knowledge and talent--it also helps to know how to focus an electron microscope or calculate the frequency of a microwave transmitter.

These seemingly nonartistic techniques are only two elements involved in the extraordinary creations at the Arts Innovation Artists Exhibition at Emmanuel Gallery. This is the fifth year for the Arts Innovation Award grants, which are sponsored by the Colorado Federation of the Arts, a 28-year-old nonprofit arts organization with strong ties to the Colorado Council on the Arts. All of the local artists who have been honored since the award's 1990 inception--and a fascinating group of idea-generators and iconoclasts they are--are represented at this anniversary exhibition.

Works on display range from 1991 award winner Jim Wolford's stunning photorealistic paintings of Rocky Mountain towns to unique ceramic sculptures by 1992 winner Brad Miller. Current winner Michelle Bauer's powerful video installation about Hollywood's romantic treatment of violence in relationships graces the upstairs loft. And while the quality of the art is impressive overall, the real charm percolates through the artists' courageous exploration of new ideas and forms.

David Kremers, for example, rejects conventional brushes and paints, instead choosing to grow his art. Kremers (a 1994 winner) uses bacteria colonies and other living things to compose artwork with unusual scope--half science experiment, half abstract painting. The growth and change of the organisms is observed or directed by the artist, resulting in works that subvert the normal definitions of art and call into question assumptions about the distinction between art and science.

Kremers's "Paraxial Mesoderm" contains a preserved growth of E. coli bacteria mounted on clear Plexiglas. The transparent colors and blobby forms of this small piece seem unremarkable until the dry words of the artist's scientific explanation sink in and the viewer realizes he is looking at preserved intestinal fauna. Kremers's "Natoosi," an ongoing forest-reclamation project in which the trees themselves are part of the art process, is documented here by a photograph of the forest.

Equally scientific but more prankish and political, 1992 award winner David Hullfish Bailey's "Ellipses" attempts to make art out of the interaction between a small radio-controlled aircraft and the microwave-transmitting antenna towers and satellite dishes that increasingly decorate rooftops and empty fields. Two black-and-white photographs and a wacky fax transmission are displayed here to illustrate Bailey's current project, which will send a ten-foot foil-covered model aircraft to do battle with the invisible microwaves surrounding a sinister-looking U.S. government antenna array in the California desert. Bailey's plane will disrupt telephone transmissions and may actually explode as the microwaves clash and burn--a demonstration, says Bailey, of the antenna system's vulnerability and absurdity.

Abandoning science for the psyche, 1990 winner Jeff Starr's unnervingly beautiful paintings offer a practical demonstration of the struggle between abstraction and represen- tationalism. His expert oil- or acrylic-on-canvas works focus on mind-bendingly abstract forms, but they are rendered with such exquisite draftsmanship that they seem to take on lives of their own. "Crawl," for instance, begins with a bleak desert landscape reminiscent of the apocalyptic horizons so dear to surrealists. Planted dead center is a twisted object that might almost be flesh except that its bumpy extremities never resolve into limbs, its features never quite define themselves into a face. Starr's title is vague and descriptive at the same time.

Every artist dreams of the courage to buck the trends of the moment, ignoring market pressures to create art that is truly original. The profound surprises found at this exhibition prove that such dreams can be fulfilled.

Arts Innovation Artists Exhibition, through November 17 at Emmanuel Gallery, 10th and Lawrence on the Auraria campus, 556-8337.

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