Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 15, 2008
Pictured: "Cowards take you from behind 1," digital photograph by Rodrigo Valenzuela; untitled sculpture by Julie Day, and untitled digital photograph by Daniel Barron. Photos courtesy Black Front Gallery.
Olympia is losing the only thing it has that resembles a cutting-edge art gallery. It’s not surprising. When it comes down to dollars and cents, Olympia is not much of an art town. There may be a shipload of artists in town, but there’s less than a rowboat load of collectors.
The current show at Black Front Gallery is its last. Featured artists are Julie Day (sculpture), Daniel Barron (digital photography), and Rodrigo Valenzuela (video and digital photography).
In a wall statement about his own work, Barron sums up the essence of the whole show when he uses the phrase “fascination and repulsion.” His large-scale photographs are strangely beautiful once you get past the initial shock of seeing such visceral images. Barron photographs what he refers to as biological and nonbiological forms and puts them together digitally into pictures in which all of the parts look vaguely familiar but nothing is quite recognizable. We’re looking at body parts here — things inside the body, living organs all pumped up with blood, and eye sockets with spikelike eyelashes. Clear glass objects are jammed into these eyes; empty eyes serve as frames for giant fingers and thumbs swaddled in hair. Human flesh sprouts hard, green, clawlike tentacles.
You can’t really tell what these images are, but they certainly strike a nerve. Technically, they are beautifully executed. You can’t see where or how different images are put together. The connections are organic and seamless. And the colors are soft yet vibrant with lots of skin and blood colors.
There are six of these large photographs in the show. They have the slick and polished look of high-fashion photography, but the images are nothing like fashion photography. The images are more like a record of something gone horribly wrong in a biological experiment.
Day’s sculptures are even more visceral and grotesque — more repulsive and more fascinating. Made of what appears to be molded polyurethane, cloth and metal, they hang off walls and crawl across the ceiling and floors in what looks like gut-filled sacks vomited out of stovepipes with wet arms oozing everywhere. Big sacks like distended testicles sprout mechanical handles and spouts. They look a lot like creatures out of the Alien movies. Wow! Creepy.
In the back room are two large digital photographs and a two-part video by Valenzuela. I’m not sure what the technique is, but I would guess the images are digitally overlaid. Intricately repetitive floral patterns are printed over soft-focus images of human figures that are barely recognizable. They are titled Cowards take you from behind 1 and 2.
Number one is made of 64 small panels, each with the same floral pattern in black line with various colors all printed over a large picture on the left of a standing female figure and on the right what may be two figures engaged in anal sex. I can’t be sure of that because the image is indistinct, but the way they’re positioned and the title both hint at that interpretation.
Number two is made of six large, vertical panels with similar floral patterns in white and brick red printed on a bright red background overlaid with a picture of a screaming woman. It is a powerful image of intense pain presented in a sweet way — a disturbing mixture of tenderness and pain.
Valenzuela’s video consists of gradually changing close-up shots of two women’s faces in grainy black and white.
The gallery plans on closing with a bang. First, on Saturday, May 24, it will host the Pushing Daisies, an underground experimental film and sound show featuring award-winning experimental filmmakers from Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. All films will be accompanied with live experimental soundtrack performances by Bloodclot (Olympia) and Eric Ostrowski (Seattle).
Then, opening Friday, May 30, will be a special two-day show of work by the photo interns at The Evergreen State College.
[Black Front Gallery, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, through May 31, 106 Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.786.6032]