By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Eric Medine, Otis
Whether it be a reflection of the times, the selection pool, or our particular curatorial temperament, this year’s exhibition contains surprisingly few small-scale works, and few that involve very elaborate technology.
One salient exception on both counts is a suite of plaster and polymer resin sculptures by Eric Medine, made using three-dimensional design software and a Z-Max Rapid Prototyper. The objects themselves are a few inches in diameter and installed so that they’re flush with the wall, receding inward. They resemble tiny architectural models but are actually three-dimensional renderings of maps derived from Google searches. The places they document, however, are elusive. “Rather than an inquiry into the map of a known place,” Medine says, “these search requests ask Google to return to a state of mind or a poetical construct.”
The requests, which serve as titles for the works, range from existential to comical: “Place That Is Most Corrupt,” “Place With No History,” “Place That Is Not for Sale,” “Place That Succeeds Where All Others Have Failed,” “Place Where the Dead Outnumber the Living,” “Place Where Everyone Gets Laid,” “Place Where the Good Drugs Are At,” “Place Where They Put Their Hands in the Air Like They Just Don’t Care.”
A peculiar fusion of sculpture, poetry, technology, philosophy and science fiction, the works pack an elaborate conceptual framework into a tight and formally elegant little package.
Christopher Michlig, Art Center
Given all the many ways in which video art is capable of going wrong, particularly in the hands of eager young neophytes with free access to equipment and plenty of time on their hands, the emergence of a work as simply and perfectly right as Christopher Michlig’s La Brea is cause for celebration. Michlig includes a flurry of academic citations in his statement on the work, but don’t let that fool you; it’s actually wonderfully straightforward: just a close-up shot of a bubbling fissure at La Brea Tar Pits, paired with “an electric-guitar soundtrack of a partially muted E chord being strummed in unison with the bursting tar bubbles.” The image is mesmerizing, and the accompaniment priceless.
Michlig describes the work as “a metaphoric evocation of the revolutionary.” We’ll buy that. But even without the conceptual dressing, it’s pretty darn cool to watch.
Chris Oatey, Otis
Chris Oatey’s stark, stylized ink drawings explore the icon of the mushroom cloud, drawing it out of its cultural context temporarily in an attempt to explore its visual mechanics. “There is a sublime nature to photographs of mushroom clouds,” he says. “They have become iconic representations in their scale and shape. This work attempts to separate the viewer from the spectacle of the photograph while begging closer inspection as to how it was constructed.”
The drawings are small and spare, each with a single cloud composed of thousands of tiny black circles. Detached from their weighty historical significance, they become just strange and beautiful shapes — which, of course, points back to why they have become such powerful icons.
Oatey’s digital prints of altered satellite images are very different stylistically — compositionally dense, brightly colored and dynamic — but also involve objects drawn out of their recognizable contexts and abstracted in order to indulge and revel in their aesthetic potential.
Tracy Powell, UCLA
The influence of Catherine Opie on the young photographers of UCLA is visible most notably in a conscientious attention to place. Tracy Powell, one of the most accomplished of those photographers, describes her own project in abstract terms — as an exploration of “the sublime space between where nature begins and civilization ends” — but it is the quality of this attention that distinguishes the work, anchoring her poetic instinct in concrete terms: in the subtle reflections on the surface of water, the entanglement of trees and sky, and the geometry of local architecture.
A child of the military, Powell moved frequently while growing up and sees her work now reflecting that experience of constant exploration. “My photographs are about moments found in the midst of journeys,” she says. “There is no distinct separation between bodies of work, no matter where the photographs originated.” Given the sheer beauty of these locales, with their glassy lakes and cloud-skirted hills, it’s an enviable job, this journeying. But photographs of this caliber may the next best thing. And in some ways, they’re even better.
Theodosia Pulitzer, UCLA
Dedication to craft is a quality that defines all of the artists in this year’s show, but none so distinctly as Tia Pulitzer, whose delicate, glazed clay sculptures hearken to the heyday of French and English porcelain, albeit with a vaguely ominous twist.
“Much of my work is about the perversity of beauty,” she says, “the preservation of innocence and my conflict between the necessity and tragedy of inevitable sacrifice.” Her subjects — mostly deer- and doglike animals — are elegant, melancholy creatures with slender limbs, soulful eyes and a skittish demeanor. Most are alone, as if cast out of the mythical dimension that produced them and ill at ease on our own ignoble soil. One carries a snake in its mouth; another has a paw raised as if ready to flee. Several stretch out across the ground, world weary.
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