Porn for the Paranoid

Fabrice Gygi feels your fear

For those who have slept with one eye open since 9/11 "changed everything," who offer up their neighbor's kid to fight over there yet refuse to sacrifice a tax cut for the necessary Kevlar and reinforced steel: continue to wrap your beautiful minds around the latest rationale for empire. But for those who bristle at the thought of the U.S. as an East Germany with Starbucks, and who suspect this situation is more a creation of our minds than theirs, Swiss artist Fabrice Gygi brings his porn for the paranoid to the one country more hypervigilant than his own.

"The Aesthetics of Control" at the Orange County Museum of Art forces one to re-examine the uncommon but recognizable tools of protection and social control. Considering them apart from their customary usage, the accompanying notes say, "proposes new readings of their forms and an interrogation of the social, civic and political power systems they reference." Two pieces reassure us of our government's singular means (if not the wherewithal) to save us at our darkest hour. Flotteurs (2002) is the paraphernalia of a rescue at sea: a large, triangular float surrounds a central mesh on which to rest one's waterlogged bones while a strobe flashes a signal of distress. Three outsized sausage links provide for a decidedly less comfortable wait for that Coast Guard helicopter. A muted roar from a nearby air compressor keeps Airbag Generation/Round (2002) at the ready. It is a 12-foot puck of concentric circles like those meant to cushion your hasty exit through a lower-floor window, though the attendant sign ironically warns you not to jump on the piece, let alone sit on it while wearing shoes. All component pieces are screaming yellow, the international color of safety and—like our current administration's claims to operate in our best interest—inflated.

The museum's lobby displays Gygi's most massive pieces, the concrete and steel cylinders of Pylones (2004). These three towers interrupt the room's planned flow the way Stonehenge breaks up the flatness of Salisbury Plain. One pillar also becomes the pedestal for the stuffed leather trio of Y's (2004). Inspired by the training dummies in Greco-Roman wrestling, another juts out and up from the base of one pylon like the phallus of an ancient roadside herm.

Not coincidentally, Gygi's most sinister works are those in darker hues. Three pieces arranged together compose a morbidly festive tableau: Paravents/Grey (1997), Scene (2000, with Sydney Stucki) and Guirlandes (2005). Five gray tarps stretched across equally drab steel frames flank a much taller structure topped with a corrugated roof and fronted with a stretch of cyclone fencing. Overhead, the artist has strung a network of cables studded with stainless-steel triangles, in the manner of those lines of small flags hung between light posts at used-car lots. Rigged as it is with a PA and a titanium-shelled PowerBook, the whole thing resembles the DJ booth at a Gitmo camp mixer.

I would be remiss in passing over the exhibit's most iconic work, even though Minoviras (2000) is but a bop bag shaped like an underwater mine. But the exhibit's most effective piece is also its smallest. Christeras Projectiles (1997) is a striking arrangement of nylon rope and black PVC implements similar to the cestas worn by jai-alai players to accelerate the ball to insane speeds. Picture one of these loaded with a gas grenade or perhaps a spherical beanbag, and understand that it is most likely to be wielded by police to disperse a crowd of their fellow citizens. Therein lies the darkest beauty of Gygi's aesthetic.

"FABRICE GYGI: THE AESTHETICS OF CONTROL" AT ORANGE COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART, 850 SAN CLEMENTE DR., NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 759-1122. OPEN TUES.-SUN., 11 A.M.-5 P.M.; THURS., 11 A.M.-8 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 12. $8-$10.

 
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