CLAUDIA BUCHER HAS MADE A SIGnificant contribution to Los Angeles art and culture in the '90s with her unusually imaginative amalgam of performance and sculpture. You may have seen her. She was the one at the 1994 Foundation for Arts Resources (FAR) event at the Brewery, lying inside the “Home of the Bighorn Onyx,” a tiny wooden hut out in the parking lot. Half onyx, half mermaid on a rock ledge, she acted as an oracle for visitors who, in the cramped space, couldn't resist confessing to her. In 1997 at FAR's event at the Griffith Park Zoo, it was Bucher (boo-SHAY) inside the 24-foot-long bean pod suspended from a tree. At LACE's 20th-anniversary celebration last year, she could be seen slithering around inside a glass-bottomed box suspended from the ceiling, with snakes,lizards and plants — as the embodiment of Persephone, Narcissus and Echo. Her works are mythical dramas, and, like Rachel Rosenthal, she has consistently portrayed a fresh image of the female archetype.

Bucher's latest installation, The Last Supper at Swan Lake — Act IV: Thirst, is the first of her pieces in which she is not physically present. In a darkened space with a high ceiling, Bucher has installed an elaborate 12-foot-long, thick, wooden table with chairs and place settings for 12. There are portholes in the walls around it, and two stately doors at one end of the table that suggest both the absence and arrival of the participants. The floor is dry, crackling underfoot, and the table settings are served up with the dried, discarded skins of reptiles, seeds and pods. Underneath each place setting, in a chamber built into the table, is a pool of water illuminated by light that shines up through the translucent plates.

The water beneath the plates and the water “outside” the room beyond the portholes represents sustenance that is both physically and metaphorically out of reach. A large, spherical glass urn filled with pale red fluid hangs beneath each high-backed wooden chair. A metal tubelike fitting leads from the seat of the chair down to this vial; this liquid is the result of former “thirst,” water already used and processed.

In the Swan Lake myth and the story of Christ, the protagonists' desires are eternally denied, setting in motion tragic dramas of longing and self-sacrifice. In Thirst, there is a sense of something gone very wrong. The room's atmosphere is of denied fulfillment, where dark magic emanates from loss and the subversion of love. Nothing happens here. The doors remain closed; the water lies used up or beyond reach; dryness prevails. Bucher has created a dramatic setting for betrayal, and the kind of feast it yields.


Claudia Bucher's The Last Supper at Swan Lake — Act IV: Thirst is at Side Street Projects, Gallery No. 2, 1629 18th St., Santa Monica; noon­6 p.m.; through July 10.

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