New Kids on the ARTsBlock

Posted September 28, 2007 in Arts & Culture


content=”Due North: 13 UC Grads Are Taking Contemporary Art in the Right Direction”>

Due North: 13 UC Grads Are Taking Contemporary Art in the Right<br /> Direction

As a local critic endlessly on the lookout for good art in
the Inland Empire, all I can say is—thank God for Sweeney. The most
reliable venue for high-quality cutting-edge contemporary art in the IE, UCR’s
Sweeney Art Gallery, in conjunction with UCR’s California Museum of
Photography, has struck gold again with its latest exhibit, “Compass.”

At turns brutal, breathtaking and hilarious, the dozens of
works in this massive show offer a statewide survey of the newest crop of
talent from the UC system’s eight MFA programs. Curators Ciara Ennis and Tyler
Stallings spotlight thirteen emerging artists, the crème-de-la-crème from
Berkeley, LA, Davis, Irvine, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego and our very
own Riverside. They’re all young, all recently graduated—and they’ve all style=’font-style:normal’> got game.

A childlike sense of play and very mature wit combine in
Kara Hearn’s hilarious and weirdly touching “Reincarnated Scenes” (2005), a
series of video reenactments of scenes from movies that made her cry. The films
she mimics are all big, flashy blockbusters with broad popular appeal—Gladiator style=’font-style:normal’>, E.T.,
Star Wars Episode III (only
out of respect and affection for the artist’s work do I refrain from razzing
her for actually
crying at the
latter hoke-fest), but Hearn’s reenactments are as low budget as they come. All
roles are all played by the artist, a UC Berkeley MFA grad; the props are
household items (a drumstick for Darth Vader’s light saber, a t-shirt sleeve
for Commodus’ crown), and the set is her apartment. Exuberant, self-serious,
and unabashedly amateur, each video vignette has the look and feel something an
introverted ten-year-old might cook up in his bedroom, and each compellingly
undercuts the big-budget bravado of the original films with something only a
child—or a very talented adult—could bring: true wonder.

Like Hearn, UC San Diego’s Robert Twomey also incorporates
looped video into his work, but with a very different sensibility. “One Way to
Form a Bond” (2006) is a mixed media installation that’s bound to get Sweeney
visitors talking. The focal point is a video of the artist fondling and
French-kissing a rifle, a disturbing extrapolation of the bond between humanity
and weaponry, between the body—specifically the male body—and
elements of warfare and destruction.

UCR’s John Sisley offers a somber meditation of a
different sort in his subtle, controlled pieces. Sisley’s work explores the
paradoxical limitations of information in an age which promises to drown us in
it. “Audiotape # 2 (18 ½ Minutes)” (2007) shows a tangle of
audiotape—an obsolete medium—loosely unfurled across a blank white
background. The title alludes to the amount of time that was erased from the
Watergate tapes, a historical reference that reinforces Sisley’s broader ideas.
His work posits a kind of information purgatory created by our hyper-mediated
culture, where destroyed records and outmoded media hold vast amounts of
information that is as inaccessible as it is mysterious.

UC Santa Barbara’s Nichole Van Beek explores a more
region-specific topic in “The Island of Questionable Value” (2007). This mixed
media installation examines the fate of Santa Rosa Island, off the coast of
Santa Barbara, where competing parties—the National Park system, Native
Americans, tourists, archeologists and hunters—vie for rights to the
land, and eke out an uneasy coexistence. On Van Beek’s island, natural and
synthetic materials combine and coexist in ways that range from colorful and
bizarre to unseemly and grotesque. On the ground sit mounds of faux boulders
made of balled-up plastic bags bound in colorful strings; on the wall, a
display of items that resemble primitive tools and weapons à la the
Flintstones, fashioned paradoxically from lightweight plastics, toys and bits
of foam. A cave-like structure in the center of the installation houses Van
Beek’s most disturbing juxtaposition—a cozy sleeping bag made of fabric
depicting the guts of eviscerated animals.

It’s a shame that, as new MFA graduates, these artists
will have to face the steep uphill battle for exposure and compensation that is
the fate of nearly every visual artist in this country. So with that in mind,
do your part to support the arts in the IE—find your way to “Compass.”

“Compass” runs through September 22 at Sweeney at the
University of Riverside (3800 Main Street). Visit href=””> for more info.



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