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GOTHAM ART & THEATER
by Elisabeth Kley
 
Twins have a special insight into the uncanny, at least if you believe Sigmund Freudís famous 1911 essay of the that name, one of his few ventures into what he called the "remote province" of esthetics. The London-based twin sisters Jane and Louise Wilson (who were shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999) continue their exploration of claustrophobia and ominous emptiness in their current show at 303 Gallery on West 22st Street in Chelsea, with large photographs and a sound installation of church bells. Their earlier videos were set in authoritarian spaces that had been emptied of people, whether it was the abandoned and vandalized Stasi secret police headquarters in East Berlin or the closed-for-summer-recess British Parliament building.

This time around, the twins have chosen locations that are quaint rather than chilling -- a London bookshop and a castle topiary garden. Nevertheless, the results are as eerie as ever.

The eight-channel sound piece, titled The Silence Is Twice as Fast Backwards, was inspired by a moment in Jean Cocteauís 1950 film, Orphee. In the film, a bell rings, signaling that Orpheus is ready to go down to the Underworld, and the action runs in reverse, from the present into the past, as it were. By recording the bells of St. Peterís church, Winchcombe, Gloustershire, England, and scrambling the results, the Wilsons achieve a similar sense of disorientation. The sound comes from all directions in the gallery, filling the space and trapping the listener in a strangely endless present. (The audio work can be heard online via Quicktime here.)

This temporal confusion is reinforced by the large matte C-prints, images of nostalgic locations presented in a very contemporary way. In the front gallery are four views of Maggs Antiquarian Bookshop, packed with legions of old leather tomes about travel and exploration. Two of the photographs feature a woman seen from the back, walking away between the shopís jammed shelves. Each subject wears identical black heeled shoes and stockings with seams running up the back of their legs.

Their presence creates an odd stop-action atmosphere, as if the women are trapped in a situation where something is perpetually about to occur. Are they both the same person in different dresses, or could they be the twins themselves? Are they walking back in time to the antique explorations described inside the books they pass?

In the rear gallery, four C-prints of pathways in the gardens at Sudeley Castle (also in Winchcombe) can be seen -- lush green scenes of old trees, streaming light, and carefully clipped hedges. Both landscapes and interiors are cramped artificial spaces that are beautiful, but hauntingly claustrophobic. The sound installation ispriced at £50,000, the photos are £15,000. The show remains on view June 4-Aug. 2, 2008.

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Mat Collishaw, another British artist whose subjects are beauty, time and horror, is showing his latest works one block away at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery on West 21st Street, June 19-July 31, 2008. A member of the slightly older group of artists that burst on the scene with "Freeze," the 1988 exhibition organized by Damien Hirst of fellow art students at Goldsmiths College, Collishaw is most notorious for Bullet Hole, an appropriated photo of a head wound that he enlarged to grand scale and showed in Charles Saatchiís infamous "Sensation" exhibition at Londonís Royal Academy of Art in 1997.

Collishaw often puts together contradictory combinations of images and media -- spooky videos playing within old-fashioned frames, still-lifes mixing flowers and razors, and a self-portrait as Narcissus gazing at his reflection in a tire-tracked puddle on a city street. He has also exhibited appropriated photos of women having sex with dogs and giraffes,computer-generated images of flowers put together from photos of diseased flesh, and perhaps most perversely, digitally constructed pictures of tiny fairies with insect wings -- a series inspired by the famous "Cottingley Fairy" photographs of 1917, faked by two young girls well enough to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.

Deliverance (2008), now on view at Bonakdar, is an installation of projected photographs -- staged scenes of children being rescued by adults and fleeing from disasters. Compositions resembling traditional pietas and depositions, they flash and disappear in the large dark gallery, continuously fired onto walls covered with phosphorescent paint. Three projectors swivel from side to side with an ominous insect-like sound. Assaulting and disorienting the senses, the images are brutally close yet impossible to grasp.

Outside the large gallery a few of the projected photographs reappear as faux antique daguerreotypes in leather boxes. Layers of temporal distance from the news photographs that inspired them serve to reinforce our insulation from the calamities they portray. At the same time, the fact that Collishaw has staged his events with friends brings them closer to home. The installation is priced at £70,000, and the daguerreotypes cost between £1,500 and £2,500.

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Los Angeles based artists Harry (Harriet) Dodge and Stanya Kahn, appropriately for Americans, connect the present to the future rather than the past, but their forecasts are bleak and weird. All Together Now (2008), their most ambitious production to date, can be seen at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, June 14-Aug. 2, 2008.

The 26-minute-long video, featuring a large cast including Dodge and Kahnís young son, premiered on Mar. 17, 2008, as part of the Whitney Biennial’s program of screenings, performances and installations at the Park Avenue Armory. Other videos of a similar genre include Olaf Breuningís footage of goofy tourist hijinks and Mika Rothenbergís absurdist factory productions.

The Dodge and Kahn video concerns an amorphous group of people coexisting in Los Angeles after an unnamed disaster. They forage for food, attack furniture with axes, bury dead kittens and chew on bark, all the while getting dirtier and dirtier, often wearing bags over their heads.

In one bizarre sequence, four of the characters arrive at a futuristic hotel room furnished in orange and white, with open showers and toilet. A little boy settles down to watch Yellow Submarine, the Beatlesí animated version of a future utopia (and the source of the videoís title). An older character sits on the can and reads, while Kahn and another woman luxuriate in tub and shower, emerging with their faces still covered in grime. A network of wires runs through the space, connected to a generator.

A later episode set on a beach features Kahn using a white lab coat as a sled to drag two children over rocks. In the final shot, she bathes in a lake, her face bloody and her body bruised and bandaged. Post-apocalyptic life is apparently far from easy.

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A series of assemblages by the late Tetsumi Kudo, an artist concerned with the aftermath of a real disaster, are on view four blocks uptown at Andrea Rosen Gallery, June 20-Aug. 15, 2008. Born in 1935, Kudo was ten when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. He grew up in Northern Japan, far from the actual radiation, but his childhood was colored by the hardship and trauma of postwar life.

A pioneer performance and installation artist, Kudo shocked the Japanese in 1961 with his Philosophy of Impotence, a room-sized collection of penises made from black tape, exuding burnt-out light bulbs. He moved to Paris in 1963 and became friendly with Arman and Daniel Spoerri.

The mirrors and artificial body parts, flowers and plants in his work, often displayed in Plexiglas boxes, forecast the related vitrine constructions by David Altmejd, whose exhibition of mutating colossi was seen at the same gallery last month. Kudoís work, however, although less grandiose, is arguably more tragic and poetic.

Your Portrait (Votre Portrait) (1972-3), a mirror buried in muck, with a melting pink chrysanthemum, a foot, a hand and an upside-down nose with a lawn of black hair growing from its nostril, gives the viewer a chance to experience their own living face surrounded by decay. Cultivation of Nature -- People Who Are Looking at It (1970), a bucket containing another mirror topped with snails and eyeballs, offers another opportunity for reflection on vulnerability.

The phallus, as a symbol of life amid death, continued to be a central motif. One of a series of birdcage assemblages, Your Portrait (1965-66), contains a row of penis-birds -- six with pale yellow heads and blue tails, one gray (presumably a corpse) -- next to a yellow toy bird with wings outspread, all perched in row on a pole. There is also an empty water bowl, electric wiring and a tank.

In Meditation in the Endlesstape of the Future <--> Past (1979), a face covered with bits of string and hair, with a vertical third eye above empty sockets, is crammed into another cage behind a pair of praying hands and two round reels. Communication invaded by confusion is represented by the clean film that runs from the reel on the left and through the hands, emerging covered with hair to wind on the reel on the right. More unspooled tape and tangles of colored string are strewn over the cageís floor.

Itís a body of work that could have been made by a post-apocalyptic Joseph Cornell on acid -- living things deformed by radiation, growing out of the ashes of postwar environmental collapse. A complete retrospective of Kudoís art, with a catalogue featuring an essay by Mike Kelley opens at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on Oct. 18, 2008, and one more birdcage piece can be seen in "No Images of Man," the summer group show organized by Mitchell Algus for Gering & López Gallery in midtown Manhattan.

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Apocalypse is also on the mind of Australian artist Cameron Hayes, whose third solo show can be seen at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, May 17-July 18, 2008. Dry-brushed over base colors ranging from brown to turquoise, Hayesí rather wonderfully painted images seem to warn of infinite overpopulation. Hordes of toothy bug-eyed kewpies with oversized heads swarm over everything in locations set in India, Africa, Greece and Russia, their infantilized senses atrophied by global mass culture.

By the time they opened the first Museum of Rap in Fatehpur Sikri no-one could taste, smell, feel, hear or remember it anyway, (2006), one of six large, densely packed paintings in the south gallery, is a brown universe filled with mannequins in cages, food sellers, little girls with dancing bears bedecked with bling, and an orphanage containing white adults in diapers.

Copies of the detailed texts Hayes has written to accompany his work are available. "Homeless people carried bees in glass jars to check if their bodies were decaying badly enough to worry about," the corresponding Museum of Rap story explains, giving the viewer the daunting task of searching for these details in the actual paintings.

The north gallery contains a group of works collectively titled The Incomplete History of Milikapati, with Milikapati being a city on Melville Island, off Australiaís northern coast where Hayes lived for two years. Itís a scathing indictment of the Tiwi peopleís colonialist degradation that would be considered racist if Hayes didnít depict people of all colors with equal disgust.

On the way to Milikapiti from Darwin the guy who said he knew the way -- didnít (2005) is a pastel confection in blue and pink featuring a canoe full of hideous little Irish nuns on their way to bring Jesus to the Tiwi. The half-eaten birthday cake sitting on the prow and the reflection in the water are especially cunningly painted.

In Hardly anyone believes in promised wives and just about no one would use it as an excuse to hurt a child (2006), a series of sculptures of 12 disposable nappies in felt and ribbon are appliquťd with various shades of felt excrement. There is also an installation of stuffed felt totem poles on square plywood bases surrounded by little owls. The paintings are priced at $8,000-$22,000 and the hand-sewn sculptures range from $350 to $2,200.

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If Western popular culture has ruined the rest of the world, British artist Dawn Mellor could be taking revenge with her exhibition at Team, titled A Curse on Your Walls (through August 8). The front room contains six large oil paintings of Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, demolishing the gay icon of innocence and joy by turning her into violent partisan, a laboring slave, a sleeping smoker, a mutilated corpse and a giant with an erection under her blue gingham dress.

Holding a pathetic pair of photos of her dog Toto, Death Army Dorothy (2008) (at 10 x 12 ft., the largest painting in the show) poses in front of a chorus line of skull-headed, bikini-clad golden showgirls in heels, each with one armored arm, in a gray urban setting of pink pollution and spray-painted graffiti. And the disemboweled Dead Dorothy (2008) lies on a crate, with her bloody intestines draped over a pole. One of the signs behind her refers to another Judy Garland film -- A Star Is Born, with the "B" crossed out in blood. The large paintings are selling well, at prices from $23,000 to $32,000.

Seventy-one paintings from "Vile Affections," Mellorís ongoing series of oil portraits, are also on view, hung salon-style in the rear gallery. With fluid paint, Mellor visually skewers a slew of celebrities, politicians and cultural figures -- from Hillary, Obama and Oprah to Gilles Deleuze, Yukio Mishima and Eileen Wuornos. They are a bargain at $4,000 to $8,000.

Sigmund Freud in three pairs of glasses, labeled "I am the way to eternal grief" (the opposite of Christ), James Baldwin holding three cigarettes and exhaling smoke from his nostrils, and Obama balancing a tomato on his upraised forefinger are treated rather gently -- most of the images are much bloodier. Alfred Hitchcock, for example, smokes a lit firecracker. Two black ravens sit on his dangerous cigar, with Hitchcockís eyeballs in their mouths, still connected to his eye sockets by veins.

By making affectionate portraits and then violently defacing them with painted wounds, painted excrement and instruments of torture, Mellor (who used to be an S&M performer, and has called herself a "deranged lesbian fan") gives testimony of her love/hate relationship with the objects of her obsessions. Her sensuous brushstrokes exhibit joy in material even as they depict acts of pain -- visual expressions of societyís delight in raising celebrities to ludicrous fame and destroying them with scandal.


ELISABETH KLEY is an artist who writes on art.




 



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