Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bart Gazzola and Donna White: Beautiful, as well as Brutal

artistsbyartists series, Mendel Art Gallery
Summer season, 2006

Discomfort, whether social or biological, is only occasionally either the subject or the objective of contemporary art in Saskatchewan. In the case of Beautiful, as well as Brutal, it is all four--social, biological, subject and objective.

This pairing of artists Bart Gazzola and Donna White is part of the Mendel’s artistsbyartists program, in which a senior artist from the community is paired with a junior artist--age not necessarily withstanding--in the hope that each of their practices will inform the other. This particular pairing is a clever choice, because each artist is creating an imagery of discomfort; Gazzola’s emphasis is on a medical or biological anxiety, while White’s is on social tension.

Gazzola’s work in this case is a pair of digital prints. The prints are untitled, although Gazzola refers to them as “kisses” in gallery literature. The prints show fleshy pink shapes on a black background, and are poster-sized in a landscape orientation. Each print seems to have been produced by scanning a piece of meat, an image which is then mirrored horizontally and vertically to produce the final print. The final forms, then, appear bow-shaped--not unlike lips.

Gazzola’s kisses are incredibly suggestive, bearing greater resemblance to vaginal openings than to facial ones, although Desmond Morris might suggest that evolution has ensured that there is little difference. In either event, the lip pairings are grotesque, and viewers may find themselves shocked to imagine themselves kissing them--the detail in the photographs is high enough, and the surface glossy enough, to permit this. The fact that the lips are composed of cow tongues (as the gallery's information indicates) serves to interrogate the reasons for our disgust as viewers; after all, this is the same substance some of us put into our mouths and it is similar to that we already have in our mouths, except that Gazzola’s version is hyperaestheticized compared to what one finds in the butcher’s shop. Gazzola has made it plastic through digitization, and quarantined it under glass in his process.

If biological quarantine raises tension in Gazzola’s photographs, it is social quarantine that is the modus operandi of White’s sculptural works. These sculptures, entitled The Cyborg Collars, are ornate neckpieces crafted of metal and a combination of paper and translucent film. The paper/film is folded and rippled to create undulating patterns reminiscent of those on Elizabethan collars. The metalwork, on the other hand, is industrial and aggressive, coming to sharp points around the periphery of the collar. Whether these devices are worn by an isolationist aggressor or an isolated victim is unclear, and perhaps irrelevant, although I couldn’t help but wonder how the sizing for the neck was determined; do these works fit the artist’s body, built to her proportions? The collars are not placed on models of any kind; because of this, and the historical influences they incorporate, the collars also reference the artifacts of a civilization now obsolete.

If this work has an inconsistency, it is in the discrepancy between the detailed--almost obsessive--patterns on the paper/film and the technical imperfections and irregularities in how these materials are applied. Furthermore, all the works in the exhibition are illuminated by fairly standard gallery lighting. As such, the environment the works find themselves in becomes a compromise between the extremes the two bodies of work might call for independently: dim, focused museum lighting for the collar-artifacts, and cold, sterile surgical light for the flat, plasticized lips.

Neither of these concerns are fatal, however--but, by infection or impalement, the work itself looks as though it could be.

--Lee Henderson

link to the Mendel Gallery's site for Beautiful, as well as Brutal (must scroll down)


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Bart said...

I still love this review, Lee: it's nice when someone gets just how dirty your work is meant to be.


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