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In Cold Blooded

The Young Artists In Splotch Were Just Made For Surviving These Uncertain Times

An installation view of Tell-A-Vision

By Deborah McLeod | Posted 8/23/2006

Did you know that you have a reptilian brain? Although itís the oldest of three evolutionary parts of our modern human brain, itís the one thatís particularly red and throbbing in these particular times we make for ourselves. Tell-a-Vision at the Current Gallery is very much a show for our newest century. Organized and curated by Splotch, an online graphic artistsí initiative, Tell-a-Vision exploits the tendencies toward speaking in the forked tongue of our consumptive culture. How is this reptilian? It envisions survival, hunger, fear, and sex, with its bifurcated tongue a sensor, smelling out the stimuli that will gratify and appease it--and perhaps even saying one thing and meaning another.

The artists of Tell-a-Vision are young, barely out of graduate school--mostly from the Maryland Institute College of Art. They are the proverbial messengers, receptive voices that expose the conditions they confront. Anastasia Wong focuses her perceptions on social groupings with her economic use of medium. In the soft watercolor atmosphere of a hazy void, she places her slender, naked, vulnerable little outline figures. They interact in a casual and sometimes hedonistic manner without individuation, and with very little real communion; theyíre posed mannequins, actors. Wong either eliminates their (generally female) identity by exchanging their heads for repressive gray orbs or provides them the duplicate genetic features of clones. In her newest image Wong puts her humans on all fours to liken them to animals, solitarily grazing, mating, concentrating on their itches.

Further along, the spontaneous, frenzied sketches of Jonathan Watkins depict disordered cities, where the frozen moment of a street corner bears witness to its various gathered realities; the graffiti, the vendors, the punks, the populace. Watkinsí sketches are raw, unruly scenes where civilization hangs on by the threads of the habitual while the tags on the buildings are perhaps its only constitution. These could be real places in the world, whereas Chelsea Harris opts for fantasy. Her scenarios inventively bargain between fruitless ennui and furtive humor in a childish drawing style. Mixed-media works with watercolor and collage elements on white paper present the strange psychological predicaments of her hapless protagonists. In a quasi-rural setting of scrawny barren trees, often supervised by the specter of a jumbo bunny, expanses of lawn and the occasional odd sculptural machinations of tree logs make up the backdrop. The humans in question, awkward in nature, soldier on with their curious activities. Harrisí characters apparently acknowledge that we the viewers/voyeurs are watching, as they engage in their unreality based show.

The same street corner that Watkins draws by daylight foments even more disquiet by night in the apocalyptic paintings of Gabriel Ries. The reptiles come out to play and prey in these epic noir paintings of the fury and vice of disenfranchisement. Nothing is safe or held dear by his wild-eyed cartoon actors in the tragic hold of their acrimony, anarchy, and powerlessness to redirect chaos. In every inch of palpable, vigorous space, Riesí scenes are basically neo-Bosch-ian amplifications of the nightly news. To make more gentle the experience of living in our ambiguous world, although certainly not to demystify or order it, are the overtly delightful, stunning paintings of Andrew Liang. These allegorical images in a Far East Crayola-palette venture into the neo-cortex to trigger old, confused associations with symbols. Liang has his own Simon and Garfunkel/Chinese zodiac glossary for what the elephants, turtles, and rabbits stand for, but their physical attributes are such a mťlange that they almost meld into one many-faceted, multihued chimera. The thin red capillary line that the artist uses to stitch the elaborately patterned icons together effectively pumps them full of force.

Adeye Deresse provides a sampling of sincere personal devotion in her pen and ink illustrations of animals from the Bible. These, more than the other works in Tell-a-Vision, came from a naive viewpoint, remote from the consumption culture and anime influences that impact much of the rest of the show. What is fascinating and rich about some of her representational choices is the symbolic conflicts that occur when one set of motifs conjoins with another. In my reference books, for instance, the depiction of many eyes together in a given body is considered a demonic device or a means of implying disintegration, inferiority, a being left in darkness. With these, Deresse has--unironically, I think--ornamented a winged lion that speaks "holy, holy, holy."

Itís interesting when archetypes donít necessarily function cross-culturally in expected ways. The Catholic missionaries intended this, when they went about co-opting ancient pagan iconography into Christian motifs, sometimes jinxing the lesson. To address the limbic component of both our brains and the show is Marc Alain with a video of solo dancers. Itís pretty charming to watch people of all ages, including his dad, stand in front of a camera, switch on Alainís golden boom box, get beyond their inhibitions, and start grooving to their favorite tune for three minutes, setting free the persona within. But Alainís strongest work is the manipulated photographs of subjects on fire, especially the one with the young woman by the abandoned stove. This work is astute, compassionate, extrasensory, and unexpected.

Finally, overhead in Current Galleryís clerestory is a mural by Kien Nguyen. He has taken the opportunity of the show to abstract a series of Peter Max-ish profile portraits, perhaps of the artists in Tell-a-Vision, their eyes a projectile missile threading through each of them and heading forward into the future beyond the gallery wall. May they each hunger, fear, smell with a forked tongue, and survive.

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