Ceiling-snakes and scrappy sparrows
by Laura Bien
Eek! It moves! The fifteen-foot-tall white paper snake in the front window descends into a pancake-stack of tidy origami folds as its companion snake, connected to the right by rope and pulleys, ascends to the ceiling, startling the visitor to the Gallery Project's Nature Reperceived. The newly erect rightwards creature, a vertical chain of S shapes forming a sinuous hexagonal tube, towers above its shrunken companion, which at its nadir flops gently on its lax string towards its mate a few times, as if bowing gently in supplication.
Nearby, a brown metal Calderesque stabile of a candelabra-like set of arms ending in arced triangular forms accompanies a vertical series of photographs of a desert landscape. In the top picture, the stabile appears in the landscape. In the middle photo, it's gone, but a superimposed topographic grid of swirling lines over the same desert background recollects its form. The bottom photo shows only the landscape.
The viewer's eye returns to the top photo. Something funny there. The horizontal arms of the stabile mesh with the gentle hill-lines of the landscape. Perfectly. It slowly dawns: this sculpture was created for this one particular spot in the desert, to be viewed from this angle. Its lines fit into the background's topography, and nowhere else. The sculpture is a sort of photograph of the rolling contours of the desert, painted in its brown hue. The artist has made an impression of this particular stretch of nameless desert. The desert skeleton stands, as sculpture, in the gallery. The few minutes it takes for the subtlety of this work to manifest its intent in the viewer's mind makes it all the more astonishing.
The exhibit's forty-three other mixed-media works by local artists also examine aspects of nature. Some of the works comment on nature besieged by human development. Clinton Snider's Tree and Fence is dominated by a knobby stump in the foreground, a living tree turned fallen soldier, with cookie-cutter housing developments
looming in the background. Rick Pas's two large photorealistic paintings depict sparrows in super-market parking lots. In one, three sparrows crouch under a car in winter. One is dimmed in shadow under the car, and ominous icicles hanging from the car door seem to be targeting the other two. In the other, a sparrow perches cheekily on a shopping cart handle. Its spunk and verve amid the shiny, hard reflective bars of the cart and the hard surfaces of car door and asphalt convey an unkillable resilience of nature, embodied in the tiny sparrow body, even amid the sterility of sealike parking lots. The viewer smiles, rooting for the sparrow.
Nature Reperceived is on display at the Gallery Project through Sunday, October 22.
[Review published October 2006]