The Downtown Artwalk is full of things that don't belong together. Pedestrians crowd Los Angeles sidewalks. A not-entirely-arty crowd meanders from gallery to gallery. Street-dwelling winos elbow their way into art openings to get at the free wine.
“Tiny World: Organic Machine,” Kasey McMahon and Jason Hadley's joint show at Arty Gallery that debuted at last weekend's Artwalk makes sense in this mismatched scene. Both artists like to present jarring juxtapositions of nature and technology, like Hadley's light bulbs blooming from trees, or McMahon's soft fuzzy moss sprouting from lamp sockets.
McMahon's newer works are tied around themes of ascension and flight, while Hadley's works, many featuring casts of faces or hands, evoke outward expressions of inner desires. It's simple to tell the two artists' works apart even without gallery cards, yet their common interest in fusing hard and soft, inner and outer, machinery and life unifies the show.
One of the show's most affecting works is McMahon's I Want To Know You Better. Jutting from a typewriter is a flame-like metal sheet, with smaller metal sheets floating above it like embers escaping a fire only to disappear into blackness, and each is stamped with the text of a Facebook status update, a meditation on the absurdity of sharing our lives with one another in fleeting and impersonal electronic form.
The show's namesake piece, Tiny World, has miniature ladders that ascend upward to a miniature, mossy green expanse, and then further onto a mobile of sheet metal stars, which McMahon explained was inspired by her trip to the towering via ferrata ladders of the Italian Alps.
Hadley's works have a more confrontational feel, as they frequently bring the viewer face-to-face with faces and hands, most of which are cast from real-life people, and have interactive components like light switch buttons to press or motors to control. Screaming Girlfriend, which is in fact a cast of Hadley's girlfriend's face, made with a vacuum hose in her mouth (some girlfriends will put up with anything) draws viewers to peer inside and see the collection of turning, screeching motors and gears, like a clockworks, rotating inside. Yes, the girlfriend may be screaming, but we're also encouraged to look within and see what makes her tick.
Periodically throughout the opening, sweaty-faced people would emerge from the Stay Hotel next door, exclaiming, “I was just a hippo, and I loved it!” The co-conspirators employed to man — er, rather, hippo — the performance art installation helmed by McMahon's frequent collaborator Vanessa Bonet and partner Derek Doublin featured hippos doing what hippos do worst: wearing neckties and twidding knobs. The spectacle of fat grey heads on lean human bodies futzing with outmoded technologies like reel-to-reel tape decks and corded phones was like a caricature of McMahon and Hadley's mashups of nature and machines, inflated to hippo-sized proportions.
“But what does it mean?” confused Artwalk bystanders gathered around the large window would frequently wonder aloud.
Yet ask as they might, the hippos would never tell.
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