17 Jul Anatomies (East Bay Express, July 15th, 2009)
We had a great review of our current show “Anatomies” in this week’s East Bay Express. Check it out:
Cutups:Anatomically incorrect works merge science and art.
By DeWitt Cheng
July 15, 2009
Kari Marboe and Adrian Van Allen are inspired by bones, flesh, and viscera. This may sound morbid nowadays, but for the nearly four centuries between the Renaissance and Modernism, artists were expected to know the anatomical facts of life and thereby depict the human condition with gravitas — to follow Leonardo, who performed secret dissections (and wrote backward, as if that would have fooled the inquisitors), and Vesalius, who published woodcuts of dissected figures posed like classic statues: scientific versions of the satyr Marsyas, flayed by Apollo over artistic hubris. Marboe’s Medical Narratives are comprised of sculptures accompanied by text. The sealed glass cubes with their alcohol-bathed sheep/cow organs may suggest Damien Hirst’s slice-of-life sensationalism, but here the brain, eye, heart, lungs, kidney, and ovary are intact and isolated, as if for scientific analysis or aesthetic delectation. “Kidney” is indeed quite beautiful and funny, with its submerged bean/potato sprouting a snorkel. The tabloid narratives further emphasize the absurd side of human vulnerability: a psychotic inmate eats his eyes; a man married to the wife of his heart donor shoots himself, as his donor did; a fir tree is found growing in a man’s lung. Also shown are painted ceramic reliefs set on wooden panels, medical retablos, illustrating Aunt Jane’s appendectomy, Marboe’s ovarian cyst, sister Elinor’s leg wound, and cousin Joby’s root canal: with its nerves removed, Joby writes, “We have drifted apart, unable to communicate. It’s just a lodger now. An empty, soulless stranger in my mouth. An enamel gravestone.” Van Allen plays with morphology and taxonomy, constructing “a personal zoo” of biological curiosities from old skeletal diagrams that she reassembles through collage and prints atop Geological Survey map fragments, suggesting paleontological digs and maybe, considering her faux museology, ontological gags, too. The title, Natura Historia (Revised), refers to the encyclopedic amalgam of fact and fiction compiled by the Roman scientist Pliny the Elder (who died studying the erupting Vesuvius in 79 AD), and perhaps to Surrealist Max Ernst’s eponymous book of collage/frottage works. Pliny proposed an early method of classifying animals based on modes of locomotion, with chickens and kiwis (yum) darting and flapping, otters scurrying, and weasels scampering; Van Allen’s hybrids are organized along functional lines as well: a giant Megatherium sloth has the webbed, clawed feet of a mole or penguin; a bison sports a mammoth’s head; a flying Draco lizard gains additional life from a flatfish’s fine ribs; common unicorn and uncommon otter co-exist. Anatomies runs through August 3 at the Compound Gallery (6604 San Pablo Ave., Oakland). TheCompoundGallery.com or 510-655-9019