Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"FasTrak" at the Lobot Gallery

Saturday at Oakland’s Lobot Gallery (1800 Campbell St.) a fine group show called “FasTrak” opened. The show, curated by Daniel Healey & Mary Anne Kluth, displays the work of over a dozen Bay Area artists and will be up through Aug. 23.

The eclectic selection of visual pieces on the wall (their materials lists so often reading “mixed media” that I hesitate to refer to them as simply ‘paintings’) were ably supported by a delightful collection of sculptures and a smattering of other types of work: two videos, a sound loop, and two very different types of installation.

A certain whimsy characterized all of the work, and the feeling swept through even those pieces that I found less personally appealling or fully conceptualized, making even these lesser works integral elements of the overall experience of the show. This whimsical tone—combined with the obsessive attention to our local art community’s regional character that motivated the show’s creation in the first place—is set right at the entrance, where a visitor comes upon a BART system map, a tray a multi-colored pins, and the suggestion to “locate yourself on the map.”

The strongest first impression “FasTrak” made on me was with its array of sculpture. John Casey’s “Cletus” and “Otis” pair of figures loom across the room from each other, reminding some at the opening of more phallic, brightly colored Blue Meanies in jeans and rubber boots.

Darren Hawk’s “Machine,” a weird amalgam of household appliances made entirely of cardboard, juts out from the wall, inviting investigation into its many details.

Another pair of sculptures spreading their limbs across the space are Liz Maher’s “Giving Trees.” Each are freestanding and made of fabric as well as sturdier materials, but it is the differences between them that provides the meaning of the piece. Another viewer described Maher’s work here as “message-heavy,” and I couldn’t disagree—but far from being turned off by its intent, I was impressed that the “Giving Trees” were able to be so charming while carrying such a load. One tree has only artificial goods to offer: Skittles, Fruity Pebbles, gummi worms. Tears at the base ooze white and grow bulbous mushrooms. Its leaves are made from the pages of trash celebrity magazines. The other tree is the organic antithesis of the first. Baskets filled with wheat, beans, and puffs of rice are labelled things like “I am fruitful,” “I am whole,” or “I am surrendering.” Its leaves are made from hearty material, too: science texts, full of charts and information.

But my favorite sculptures on display were the small, soft “Specimens” from Martha Sue Harris, made of “fleece, acrylic, burlap and wood.” I found these pieces fantastically cutesy, their colors and presentation as soft as their materials.

The worldview put forward by the “Specimens” and the slightly less successful “Invader Species (Passing Through)” is nicely filled out by Harris’ two works of acrylic on paper also on display nearby. (Here's one):

The sense of child’s-eye wonderment at the world is also inherant in the abstractions dominating co-curator Mary Anne Kluth’s offering “We Only Preserve What We Love.”

The figures depicted near the bottom left of the composition seem to be tourists at some unimaginably beautiful sight. That they are sight-seeing there does not render the scene banal—it renders the figures ridiculous.

Nearby are two “digital prints” by Leticia Ramirez that combine that innocent eye with intense loneliness and dread. The photographs depict a sad little sculptured man in front of drawn backgrounds. Figure and ground are all in grayscale. In one shot, the man is alone in a room, looking out the window.

In the other, he has seeminly just descended the stairs from a house. It is impossible to view these two pieces together without attaching a narrative to them.

Across the gallery is Michael Cutlip’s messier approach at getting loose and child-like, “Bullies.” Full of scrawled lines, doodled figures, and collaged images, the rather large panel has much of interest and, like much that “FasTrak” has to offer, has a somewhat busy nature that rewards long-term viewing. (Here are a few details):

The most laugh out loud amusing things at the show were the pair of video pieces by Dickson Schneider. Both consist of old t.v. sets with simple images painted on their screens and a “single channel DVD loop” playing on them.

“Car” has a painting of a car driven by a figure and the ground beneath it. The video behind it was apparently shot with a camera fixed to an actual car as it travels around in the East Bay, going down mostly residential streets, stopping at stop signs and, at one point, even getting gas. The other video, “UFO,” has an even simpler painting on it: a small flying saucer in the upper portion of the screen. The video images behind it wave back and forth, simulating the movement of a UFO over familiar East Bay locations (cranes and factories, etc.) Occasionally, the UFO will hover over something for an extended period of time and then shoot out lightning bolts whatever it below it. This never fails to be greeted with giggles.

Other sights and sounds at “FasTrak”:

Mark Edwards’ sound piece “Lobot Loop” gives the opportunity to sit down on a mat on the floor in a public place and isolate yourself from the room with an endless and subtly changing loop of acoustic guitar and computer bleeps.

A crowd of viewers surrounded co-curator Daniel Healey’s two pieces, conversation constantly returning to the nature of the images. Is it painted? The images seem collaged in, but they certainly don’t look like collage. Is it an image transfer? If so, by what means? Take a look for yourself:

The group of John Writer’s child-like multi-media works on display (a lot of marker and stickers) perhaps weren’t as compositionally strong as some of the many similar works I’ve seen on his website.

“I like looking at it but I have no idea what it is about,” I heard someone say about Alexis Amann’s acrylic gouache on cut paper piece “Azazel and the Bearded Ladies.” I feel much the same way. Here are some shots of it I took:

A few of the images I didn't shoot myself came from a Flickr page for the Lobot, and
from John Casey's blog. My thanks to them for using the images without permission. Both sites have more great shots from the show as well. There's also an interview with co-curators Daniel Healey and Mary Anne Kluth at Libby's Niche.

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