September 5, 2008
‘Systems of Decay’ Art Takes Smart Look at Man and Nature
By Jennifer Modenessi
The beginning of the academic year is a time most art schools and colleges reserve their galleries for faculty and group exhibits. Whether the purpose is to inspire students or simply introduce them to another facet of their instructors' lives -- that of the working artist -- these shows are often great places to view challenging and interesting work outside of mainstream galleries and museums.
Pleasant Hill's Diablo Valley College Art Gallery has ushered in the fall semester with "Systems of Decay," a group show that explores the humorous, poignant and often chilling interface between man and nature. Featuring the work of DVC faculty members Joann Denning and Rob Keller as well as four other artists working in a variety of media, "Decay" makes intelligent if somewhat cryptic statements about humanity's effect on the environment.
Exhibit curator and multimedia artist Mark Garrett's "Time's Up" is a video installation that thrusts the viewer directly into the artwork.
Consisting of a mirror, projectors and a pair of video screens, the piece superimposes images of cancer cells and DDT molecules on footage of adults and children as well as on the viewer's reflection. The effect is unsettling yet ambiguous. It's not clear who has -- or is -- the cancer.
Three short films, one created in collaboration with DVC digital- arts instructor Denning, use the Gaia theory, which proposes that the Earth is a superorganism, as their starting point.
"Cancer of Gaia" explores the possibility of man's toxic effects on the environment via a high-speed drive through the streets of an East Bay city. In random intervals, the film pauses to focus on the slow-motion silhouettes of people throbbing with the pulse of diseased cells. Garrett's "Man on the Move" shows another viral silhouette jogging through a wooded environment. "Domestic Hazards" lightens the mood considerably, focusing on daily rituals such as tooth-brushing and deodorant application performed in the quest for antiseptic cleanliness. Other works, like David Kwan's video tableau "Terminus," operate in a more impressionistic manner. A subtly changing landscape of indeterminate location looms in the distance as waves ripple in the foreground. Slipping on the provided headphones, the viewer is immersed in the sounds of lapping water accompanied by a faint metal ringing. The effect is not unlike being on a boat, propelled by an invisible rower. It's soothing yet unnerving, especially when you consider that Kwan collects his images and sounds from the end points of roadways, shipping and rail lines. Where exactly is this voyage going to end? And will it?
Emily Mcleod offers moody nighttime photography of brightly lit buildings. Mark Baugh-Sasaki's mixed-media sculptures inject new life into amputated trees. Sasaki's "Re-form" is a Frankenstein- like pendulum created from circular slices of stacked wood suspended from a hook. "Removal" is a curious piece composed of a tiny camera and a digital monitor embedded into one of two blocks of wood.
Beekeeper and part-time DVC photography instructor Rob Keller's "Untitled" is the most mysterious piece in the show. A plastic burro wearing a miserable expression and a heavy load has bees buzzing in its belly thanks to a TV screen with images of the insects flickering in its carved-out abdomen. It's an interesting commentary on the ailing honeybee as well as a meditation on the possible need to import future bee populations due to what could turn out to be an environmental or man-made disease.
"Systems of Decay" runs through Sept. 19. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondasy-Fridays, 321 Golf Club Road, Pleasant Hill. Free. Call 925-685-1230, Ext. 2471, or visit www.dvc.edu.
Twenty-five of award-winning watercolor artist Leslie Wilson's paintings go on display Monday at the Contra Costa Public Law Library in Martinez.
The Walnut Creek artist's light-dappled watercolors reflect the varied landscapes of the Bay Area. From Martinez's sun-baked Viano Winery to the purple heights of Marin's Mount Tamalpais, Wilson's paintings capture the area's charms in loose yet expert brushstrokes.
The solo exhibition runs through Dec. 8. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays at the A.F. Bray Courts Building, 1020 Ward St., 1st Floor, Martinez. Free. Call 925-646-2783 or visit www.cccpllib.org.
Reach Jennifer Modenessi at [email protected]
Originally published by Jennifer Modenessi, Contra Costa Times.
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