By Christopher Michno
The title of the Kristi Lippire and Matt Wardell’s show at Bunny Gunner, “Luxurious Captivity,” conjures ideas of an accommodating jailer, the domestication of wild things, the curbing of instinct and resentment within the subjugated human heart. Yet Lippire plays with and gently makes fun of these ideas. Literally embedded in the heart of Lippire’s mixed media works—which she constructs out of domestic materials—is a squeaky toy.
Usually the playthings of pets and children, squeaky toys scratch a very particular itch. Whether dogs conceptualize that they are playing a predator’s game or are just instinct-bound to run after their squishy, noisy ball, subdue it and bite it for a good 30 seconds or more, all the while listening to the toy cry its breath away in the dog’s grasp, we understand that this is an irresistible game—at least for a while, until we tire of it—that is neurologically or biologically hardwired in both us and them. Is it for the same reason that infants and toddlers involuntarily turn their heads at the sound of one of these toys, or is it just the sound, so sharp and unexpected?
Lippire’s work draws our touch in a way that is also irresistible. Lippire has stuffed squeakers between the surfaces of her work and the backing, strategically placing them where our hands instinctively go. Sigmond on a Yellow Field, part oilcloth collage, part gouache painting, depicts a domestic cat. Sigmond stretches out, all soft, exposed belly and fur, against collaged oilcloth that could be a really beautiful carpet—or your grandmother’s tablecloth. The piece appeals to desires for a soft cuddly pet and the reassurance of a warm hearth. Sigmond’s squeaker is embedded beneath his belly, trading on our impulse to touch this ersatz kitty. For In Her Pride and Joy, a 1950s style illustration that looks a bit like Dale Evans and Trigger, the squeaker is embedded behind the woman’s breasts, as if it were a 1950s-era bra. Activating the squeaker exacts a naughty thrill that contrasts with the wholesome retro image.
One work, Hercules with the Pelt of a Lion—a sculptural piece worthy of Studio Ghibli; think, The Cat Returns—does not have a squeaker. This newspaper-gray, 3-foot-tall papier-mâché cat appears to have stepped out his skin. Holding the pelt like a prior incarnation, this cat in search of a new self, stands like a sentinel in the window, appraising passersby, as if trying to find a right new skin to step into.
The other half of “Luxurious Captivity” casts an unsettling spell. Acrylic ink drawings from Wardell articulate the horror film aspect of mythology and archetypal systems. In The Meeting with the Goddess, a figure fixes us with a frightening gaze. It represents an encounter that could end well or end badly. There is a sense of ambiguity and the suspension of time.
“Luxurious Captivity” takes us into the muddy mix of wish fulfillment and dreamscape, but in opposite directions. Lippire engages playful ideas about what constitutes artistic experience. Her interactive works are full of humorous, quirky observations. Hers is a delightful nightmare alley, where you might wake with a dog, tearing into your painting, trying to kill the squeaker inside it. Wardell wakens the dread of dreams that may turn horribly wrong.
“Luxurious Captivity” by Kristi Lippire and Matt Wardell at Bunny Gunner Gallery, 266 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 868-2808; www.bunnygunner.com. Opens Sat, May 8. Thru June 8. Last gallery reception May 29, 6-9PM.