featured gallery for April 2005

Night Work

There's a lot to say about living with the virus, that virus we no longer need to name to be understood, and much of it is about courage, and a tremulous and unpredictable strength, and the-love-and-support-of-my-family-and-friends-without-whom. But there are nights when all the meditation and healthful living you can pack into the daylight hours can't shield you from gallows musings and a dreadful certainty that humans aren't any better than all their wars and petty hatreds. This is a selection of artworks that seems, to me, to embody those nights. Art for the nights when there is a jackal in your breast that laughs and laughs and won't quiet down. For those nights when you open a drawer in the kitchen and all the forks and spoons have turned to knives, those nights when heaven seems impossible but you suddenly believe in the devil. These are artworks about turbulence, deformity, wicked humor, and all those things we're told that we, in our sickness, should overcome. Facing the ugly truth of these nightmare moments is hard work, work we do alone. Night work.

Martin Wong lovingly portrays a quartet of tumor-like plants, Double Lithops, rendering them in the solemn style of a Dutch still-life, and giving them a gravity and influence not found in medical textbooks. With A Wicked Man and Bold, Memphis uses super-saturated candy colors to remind us how recently our attraction to racial caricature was openly acceptable. We have not traveled far. The Fucker, a wicked cartoon robot (with detachable dildo) built by James Reich, is a jab at our automaton drive to the old in-out, in-out. James Fackrell's Ruffle Your Feathers is a chicken-headed effigy with the name "pedophile" sweetly embroidered across its breast in perfect script, a shot at the final frontier of taboos. Elliott Linwood's Catbox Pileup is just that, a smash-up column of twisted, broken cuteness, pink and white porcelain cat faces mashed together with disturbing clumps of hair. His Unctuous is a grid-work of greasy, slick, glossy forms in poisonous shades that could be pills, or suppositories, or malignant cells. These works approach, in their form, the fascination of repulsion that won't let you look away. In Frank Moore's Incubator, a dozen neatly-nested eggs are packed into a plain pine coffin and sunk in a shallow grave, a wry acknowledgement of the tiny distance between beginnings and endings. In Moore's For John Muir, a chain of storybook animals -- a walking bear, a man, a jaguar, a bat, and a snake -- march through a fairytale forest in a stately row, each with their head stuck up the preceding animal's ass. It is hilarious jab at Muir's Rousseau-ist fantasies about the kindness of nature. Jimmy DeSana's eerie, fantastic photographs portray humans in impossibly awkward positions. In Soap Suds, a figure seems to be suspended from the ceiling, his head buried in the mass of bubbles erupting from a toilet bowl. In Bubblegum, a distended giant crowds the frame, expanding to mammoth proportions like the bubble gum he is inflating with massive cheeks. Vile, a self-portrait, shows DeSana's own hung body, complete with pathetically erect cock, in the style of a pulp fiction magazine cover. Carlos Gutierrez-Solana's Dutch Treat and Loneliness explore the impact of solitude through frank and chilling words superimposed over photographs of banal daily life. In Michael Harwood's Trespass, a nude man steps gingerly onto the stovetop, where no one is meant to walk. The photograph is composed of rich, noir-ish shadow and light. Sarawut Chutiwongpeti evokes the flash and seediness of a vacant strip club, all mirrors and red lights made somehow menacing by the absence of human occupation. Mooshka's 2 Spirit Girl, a rough fetish of burlap with crudely rendered sex organs, reduces identity to plaintive symbology, an act echoing the desire to alter the flow of events by miniaturizing and simplifying them in ritual. It's hard to tell whether John Lesnick's Mummy is any creepier than his Business Man, but they share a directness of gaze both challenging and funny, their faces serious and awful. In Jonathan Leiter's In the Bedroom (Jack Be Nibble), the combination of children's rhymes and porn plays havoc with our expectations of adulthood and innocence. Finally, Hamlet Manzueta's Innocence, a frenetic stack of eyes rendered with urgency and fury, conjures feelings of being watched when we wish to be private, and reminds us, as Steven Jesse Bernstein did, that "even when we are not private we may not choose our audiences."