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The Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize 2010

Posted 7/7/2010

The Sondheim Artscape Prize: 2010 Finalists

Through Aug.1 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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Christopher Lavoie's "Concrete Mickey Slippers" and "OK Computer Dumbbell"

Christopher LaVoie

Baltimore sculptor Christopher LaVoie deserves $25,000 or a medal or at least a street named after him just for coming up with the only useful purpose for Radiohead CDs: Purée them into a concrete-y mush. That's exactly what LaVoie did for his "OK Computer Dumbbell," an ordinary free weight made out of pulverized copies of OK Computer--that overrated 1997 whine fest about the post-industrial ennui of being a college-educated white heterosexual male, the Dark Side of the Moon for the late 20th-/early 21st-century pod peoples. What LaVoie does with such an artifact is sublimely irreverent and endlessly witty. What it's not is as intellectually articulate as his accompanying wall text might want you to believe.

As posted in the gallery, LaVoie's works use "everyday objects and experiences that are associated with masculinity" and the "theme of domesticating the more menacing aspects of human behavior and the natural world." Well, yes and no. LaVoie possesses a highly improvisational wit, which he's able to tease out through his clever use of materials and cunning use of a deceptively ordinary vocabulary. "Concrete Mickey Slippers" are just that--plushy house shoes with mouse ears and snout typically worn by kids made out of manly, construction worker concrete. "Sediment Hatchet" takes excess crud collected from the bottom of a shop sink and turns it into a hand ax. "Love U Hammer" center mounts an ordinary claw hammer (its metal connection between hammerhead and handle has been reduced to a meek pencil-neck) in the center of a Soloflex workout poster with Love U! cursively scrawled across the lower-right quadrant.

The masculinity that LaVoie appears to mine here is oddly immature, associating manliness with construction materials and working out. And it feels intentionally immature, as if he's exploring only how young boys imagine what grown up men do based on very limited knowledge and life experience. At least, that's the idea conveyed by LaVoie's video piece "These Are My People/Children Playing Halo," a very simple combination of media; LaVoie pairs Johnny Cash's confidently populist "These Are My People" with YouTube clips of, well, children playing the first-person shooter video game Halo. It's a disturbingly revealing snapshot of immature maleness already taking root in young boys. In the clip, one kid is a plump towhead, another is a skinny boy with a buzzcut. And they are trolling through the video game's reality killing shit--and maybe even each other.

LaVoie's work itself doesn't have much to say about this naïve idea of masculinity. That being said, LaVoie is the most adept object maker in this group, and nothing announces that more than "Energy Temple." A three-sided pyramid with two faces looking like a highly polished ancient ruin and the third, a triangular arrangement of subwoofers, the entire thing is elevated off the ground by casters and has a neon green light mounted underneath. It's topped by a copper plate that, when touched, causes the beast to emit a rumbling low tone.

Best thing about it: That tone isn't loud, but it is really low, and its reverberations carry through the galleries like the cloying smell of pipe tobacco. No matter where you are in the Sondheim exhibit, the "Energy Temple" sounding reminds you of its inscrutable presence. It's such a daft combination of odd ideas/cool noise gadget that it could bring an entire roomful of stoned Guitar Center techs to their knees in praise. (BM)

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