Hello, Dolly!

Part trite, part Brite parts

photo by Jack GouldDesecrated doll parts are really nothing new; the noted cultural critic Courtney Love sang about them years ago with her band Hole. But "Technology vs. Humanity" at Laguna Beach's Galerie 224 is an interesting bit of a show despite the doll trick. All the hackneyed elements—down to that title—add up to more than a sum of their parts. And at least the title, as opposed to the 17 other shows I've seen this year with the same moniker that had nothing whatsoever to do with technology or the millennium, actually refers to the works.

It's not really considered kosher for a gallery owner to show her own work, which Galerie 224 owner Gail Rodgers has done here, throwing a few of her own Conceptual panels into a show otherwise devoted to young artist Neil Simon Poyuzina. But her panels, burnished silver things, are lovely to look at; apparently, her 20 years as a graphic artist were well-spent. She knows her fonts, and the steel panels gleam pleasantly. And so does she: she's a lovely woman. But the slogans with which she has emblazoned her panels—AMIU; RUME; RWEGOD—are trite at best, like something out of one of those all-too-earnest "GenArt" openings in a chic (and rented) Soho gallery. Her work would be perfect (and I'm not being snide, so far as I can tell) for commercials. I can just see her one-world aesthetic (and so beautifully presented!) appearing over the heads of those Gap clones telling us all to be in utility vests. Rodgers should think about getting Absolut Vodka to sponsor the openings; they eat that stuff up.

Poyuzina's work is extremely repetitive: planks painted different colors are home to massacred baby dolls, limbs torn off and screwed to the wood. But the more of these one sees, the more one gets into Poyuzina's groove. A baby has an electric plug for an umbilical cord; another is pierced with holes, its insides lit-up to produce a baby-as-Lite-Brite. Another has baby parts stuck to a pewter-like substance, evoking the cathedral-door panels of Brunelleschi and Ghiberti—who gained the commission for the doors after a contest in which Ghiberti most successfully portrayed Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, though really that particular bit of trivia is probably stretching Poyuzina's intentions an awful lot, despite the fact that his stated theme is how we're sacrificing our children to technology. I'm pretty sure it's just a coincidence.

Other babies have spikes stuck in their heads—a clear rip-off of the popular Garbage Pail Kids trading cards from the mid-'80s—and crucified babies crying black tears. The neatest of the dead babies is Still Birth, which features a jellied fetus on a circuitry board, hooked up to a CD. Sure, circuitry boards are as hackneyed as prop comics, but the fetus is covered with a petroleum-jelly-like goo! That is so cool!

Gallery personnel left messages at the Weekly that this would be a "controversial" show. Perhaps to Laguna Beach residents stultified by plein air and French-Mediterranean seascapes it is, but even Poyuzina's collage of hardcore-porn-mag cocks and pussies (curtained off from younger viewers and drenched in a come-like viscous fluid) has been done here. One just like it was shown at the family-friendly Laguna Art Museum last year—except for the tossed empty water bottles apparently signifying how women are used-up. But Poyuzina moves past the obvious wish to shock (which is so 1986, "Sensation" and the Brooklyn Museum notwithstanding) and into something slightly deeper.

Extremely helpful in dulling Poyuzina's juvenile hankering for an elephant-dung notoriety is his marked gift for sculpture, which he does in the decidedly unfriendly medium of salvaged barbed wire—and he's got the scars to prove it. A birdcage is formed in the shape of a head; the door for the canary would be through the mouth, leaving all kinds of delightful images of song and ideas pouring physically out of one's head. Unfortunately, the birdcage is fashioned from barbed wire. Any bird living in it would be torn up most distressingly. A very touching abstracted head is hung above some stairs in the gallery. The head is hollow except for a bulbous tumor one can see lodged inside; it is the tumor that almost killed Poyuzina's mother.

But most extravagant of the sculptures is a titanic crucified Christ sans cross or arms. The form, while huge, is delicate, and instead of just a crown of thorns, it is nothing but, as the rusted wire pokes here and there and everywhere. It is glorious: one sees from the side the vulnerable small of his back, a vulnerability enhanced by his nudity, which doesn't seem out-of-place or gratuitous, but real. I felt weird noting Christ's giant package, but it's subtle. Subtlety is something Poyuzina could use a little more of. But then, who couldn't?

"Technology vs. Humanity" at Galerie 224, 224 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-5757. Open Mon.-Tues., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Through Nov. 1. Free.
 
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