B y M a r g a r e t R e g a n
CHRISTINE CRESCENZI REPRESENTS art's Brave New World. Two years ago the Tucson artist's color photographs won her best-in-show at the Dinnerware Biennial. With that prize came the choice slot of "featured artist" in this year's edition, the Biennial Seven State Juried Exhibition. So this time around, Crescenzi gets to show 14 works, all hung right by the front door.
But Crescenzi has come a long way from plain old color photography. When a disability made darkroom work difficult, she turned to the new medium of "computer dye sublimation photo composites." What this looks like is color photography gone kaleidoscopic, with imagery effortlessly repeated or turned around and upside down, and reassembled in odd ways that would warm the heart of a Surrealist. Every square inch of her small, dense pictures is stuffed full of claustrophobic imagery. In "Expectations," there's a helicopter hovering near the ceiling in the bedchamber of an amorous couple, whose figures are repeated again and again like echoes through the room. A sleeping blue-collar worker is shoved toward a malevolent time clock by an army of armless, faceless drudges in "Worker's Nightmare" and naked men in "The Invitation" float upward in a honkytonk where nearly nude women dance on the bar.
For all you Luddites who haven't a clue how the ever-so- computer-literate Crescenzi gets where she does, here's a primer. She starts out with photographic imagery, some of them found pictures, but mostly her own photos. Then she uses a film scanner to scan the negative images into her computer. With the help of the Photo Shop program, she proceeds to manipulate the imagery in an endless variety of ways. She outlines figures, for instance, so the computer can block and store them, and then she calls them up again to place them wherever her artistic fancy desires. She loads up what she's created on a disc and hauls it to a lab that can make finished dye sublimation prints out of their computer. The color of the final works--lots of lurid reds, greens, pinks--is surprisingly strong, if a little on the fluorescent side. It's collage art of the future: controlled by the human imagination and constructed entirely by machine.
Art processed by computer is not the only challenge launched by this show. It features some 35 artists, culled down from an applicant pool of 135 from seven southwestern states. Three jurors--installation artist Barbara Penn and mixed-media artist and art historian Keith McElroy, both UA profs, and Tucson photographer Frances Murray--picked the exhibitors. Even though Murray, an NEA grant winner and occasional NEA juror, does black-and-white photography of the classical (and breathtaking) variety, she's joined with her fellow jurors in coming up with a show that celebrates all kinds of new media.
The jurors picked as this year's best-of-show winner a California fellow who does sculptural pieces, mixing his media of bronze, steel and wood, and, if I'm not mistaken, stretched-out pieces of pig gut. The artist, Scott Katano, uses found imagery, including a charming, old-fashioned engraving of a pig, and found objects, such as a dog collar, in a series of four wall works that denounce the exploitation of animals by humans. "Bingo" features the collar mounted on metal and the pig printed on the stretched gut, which has been skewered violently to a rough metal frame. Katano is up to the minute is his insertion of text into his artwork--this piece reprints in an old-fashioned typeface a fragment of the children's song "And Bingo Was His Name." And he's certainly contemporary in his political preoccupations and his eccentric assemblages of materials. Still, his hand-crafted work, especially with all that Industrial Age metal, looks light-years away from Crescenzi's high-tech offerings.
Tucson's own Ellen McMahon makes text the centerpiece of her works on paper, which typically investigate the travails of contemporary mothers. "According to the Experts I & II," has the usual McMahon elements: photographic reprints of a young child on cloth, accompanied by a lengthy text on paper. But this time around, McMahon turns her own medium on its head. She's mischievously blurred out every word of the text, rendering it unreadable and deftly putting the aforementioned parenting experts in their place.
There are other oddball media in the show, a strange wood sculpture punctured by metal and tin by Barbara Jo McLaughlin, a book and pharmaceutical cabinet stuffed with feathers in "Alchemy Set for Icarus" by Susan Meyer Fenton, a wheelbarrow filled with stones by Bob Hassan. Scott Hopkins, a UA grad student, joins Crescenzi in offering photo manipulations. His two humorous works, "Liberty Leading the Students' and "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Fiss," pose his fellow photography grad students in send-ups of famous paintings.
And speaking of paintings, there's much here for an unreconstructed art Luddite like me to savor. Alongside the funny-papers teapot and the metal target, the painted chair leg and the cyberspace syntheses, there are paintings abstract and narrative, thick and thinned out, multi-colored and monochromatic. A Jim Waid wannabe, Mary Temple, paints up a lusciously exuberant storm of traditional oils on canvas, brushing and scratching and pushing the paint into curves and swirls inspired by the landscape. Ricki Klages uses realism in large figure paintings that investigate the psyche and sexuality in a winter woods. And the always reliable Josh Goldberg, an education staffer at the UA Museum of Art, turns in a lovely abstraction on paper, a loose and limpid poem in black and white and gray. Hailing from art's Brave Old World, if not exactly its Stone Age, the only things Goldberg used to create this little beauty were brush and paint and paper and pencil.
Biennial Seven State Juried Exhibition continues through July 8 at Dinnerware Artists' Cwooperative Gallery, 135 E. Congress St. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 7 to 10 p.m. on Downtown Saturday nights, June 17 and July 1. For more information call 792-4503.
Cutline: "The Taberbnacle of Fire" 1994, by Christine Crescenzi, synthesizes the world of photography, with the alternate dimension of computer imaging.
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