The Cyborg Supermen March Into Costa Mesa's Box Gallery for 'Übermensch'

In-between Days
The cyborg supermen march into the Box Gallery for ‘Übermensch’

People tend to get very twitchy (and all too often bitchy) about the in-betweeners—those of us who are not quite one thing and not quite another. Barack Obama is biracial—the man had a white mom. But while Obama has often referred to himself as biracial, that word is simply too complicated for many of us, and Obama looks more black than white, so the media tidily simplify the narrative, and Obama becomes the first black candidate to secure the presidential nomination of a major U.S. party.

If biracial is too much to process, imagine the sorry plight of bisexuals—prey to the same homophobia that gays endure, but shunned by many gays for being not quite gay enough. But hey, at least the in-betweeness of biracials and bisexuals typically isn’t obvious at a glance: They can go to the supermarket without getting harassed by rednecks. Things are more complicated for those of in-between gender—those who, by choice or by accident of birth, don’t read as obviously male or female. Many transgendered or intersex people face daily ridicule from strangers, along with the constant threat of violence—actual violence, just for looking confusing.

Creepy little people-bots
Ted von Heiland, "Stink Eye"
Creepy little people-bots

Given all the crap these in-betweeners catch, the social prospects do not look promising for the human-machine hybrids of tomorrow. But the cyborgs are coming, and we’ll just have to make peace with them. After all, bisexuals have no special defenses, but if you and your pals decide to go out cyborg-bashing, it’s entirely possible you’ll end the evening crawling into the ER after your ankles have been broken by those big, metal claws.

“Übermensch,” Ted von Heiland and Matt Linares’ show at Costa Mesa’s Box Gallery, offers you an early chance to get acquainted with our cyborg friends of tomorrow in a clean, eerily soothing space that will make you feel like you’ve somehow wandered into the final reel of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Von Heiland and Linares take Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the superman—the evolved human who will look down upon the rest of us like we’re a bunch of monkeys—as “a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment,” and they encase that smug bastard in a robot shell and seal it shut with pop rivets.

Von Heiland sculpts creepy little people-bots—creatures of tangled wire and diseased-looking flesh who seem remarkably comfortable with themselves, given the givens. The edges are sharp, and the colors range from steam-punk rust to cockroach gold. Linares, meanwhile, paints androids who seem hewn from whatever was around at the time—metal, wood, perhaps a wet little hunk of brain to keep the works running. His colors are vibrant but melancholy, with suns setting on long days full of lonesome weirdness.

In addition to focusing on beings who are not entirely human or machine, these two artists share something else in-between-ish about their work: It’s simultaneously cartoon-cute and nightmarish. Of the two, Linares’ creations certainly look like they would make the better neighbors. With their slouchy shoulders and gentle, glassy eyes, these are generally non-threatening, sort-of-emo droids. (Some of them almost look like the Ironwood Giant.) But Von Heiland’s sculptures have a much more disreputable air; if they moved in next door, you could probably expect to be kept up all night by noisy cyborg parties, with metal machine music blasting at all hours and the sound of oily gears grinding unwholesomely together.

Oh, dear. You see how easy it is to fall into the trap of pre-judging our cyborg brethren the same way we pre-judge everything else that we percieve as neither this nor that? Perhaps someday, we’ll finally grow up as a species and accept that the in-betweeners are not actually in-between anything, but simply humans who are different from us in some way that doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme.

Sadly, it’s easier to imagine that if and when Von Heiland and Linares’ prophecy comes true and the cyborg Übermensch arrives, we’ll react with the same old monkey fear we’ve shown to every other poor soul who didn’t look enough like us. And perhaps this Übermensch will indeed find us to be a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. When they take over, we can only hope they treat us better than we’ve treated the monkeys.

Ted Von Heiland and Matt Linares’ “Übermensch” at the Box Gallery, 765 Saint Clair St., Ste. B, Costa Mesa, (714) 724-4633; www.boxboxbox.com. Call for hours. Through Oct. 4.

 
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