Cup of Her Blood

Photo by Jeanne RiceThings get awfully Jesus-y up at Concordia U. There, stretched out on an Irvine mountaintop from which you can see Orange County glittering decadently below, the pretty campus is protected behind a guard gate from all manner of sin and pestilence. At least it was until Laurie Hassold brought onto the campus all her menstrual blood and Original Sin.

Hassold, who teaches at Cal State Fullerton, Santa Ana College and, some semesters, at Concordia itself, is showing her less-shocking works—and they are few—in a small hallway in the theater building. At a reception on April 14, you could hear the peppy choral department practicing "Tuxedo Junction" behind a set of double doors while kids sneaked out of Hassold's lecture—which was in the chapel!—and cleaned the reception out of fudge and strawberries before Hassold had even gotten to the part where she explained how she likes to cut the wings off dead birds.

It was a really fun lecture.

Laurie Hassold sat with her slide projector at the front of Concordia's stunning glass-walled chapel, built in the amphitheatrical round. Looking from her slides to the baptismal font on the beautiful altar, the gently reared kids could be forgiven for freaking the fuck out, though they were polite and didn't heckle her when they fled. Hassold's work has never been gentle.

When she showed her Trojan Marys—lovely little shrines featuring very realistic Virgins formed from condoms (with a beautiful drape), a lot of students left. When she talked about her older work when she was still a grad student ("This is the first piece I ever did with blood"), even more walked out. When she mentioned female spirituality (or was it "the goddess"?) and "pro-choice" in the same sentence, I wanted to shout. Laurie, do you see the baptismal font? You are going to get the art department fired!

It was wonderful, like Old Home week, watching Hassold recount her entire oeuvre. "These are ideas that seem oppositional but in fact are interdependent," she monotoned, before breaking out a slide of her horrifying Skin Mirror. Then she showed her lovely Trojan Marys, her Barbie spiders (later totally ripped off in Small Soldiers), and "Hypothesis: Rocks Don't Fly." That one showed at John Wayne Airport; she collected dead birds, cut off their wings, sewed them to rocks, and then threw them off bridges. I remember being at the pretty home she shared with her husband, painter Jeff Gillette, as she picked up one of her sad dead crows and began petting it. "I just love the way they feel!" she'd said at the time. Watching a tall, dead-sexy blonde lovingly stroke animal corpses and giggle self-deprecatingly before—perfect hostess—pouring you a homely cup of tea is something that sticks with you.

There were the Rorschach blots formed from her blood that showed in Santa Ana (at the Caged Chameleon, if I remember correctly) some eight years ago. At the time, she exhibited them with nasty cotton balls, the lancet with which she'd countless times pricked her finger and the sexy dress she wore while she did it.

She began to show mandalas made of silk and cigarette burns; they were Rorschachian, too, but one clearly depicted Satan's goat head. Of another, created with an artist in Thailand, she said in her spriteliest tone of the evening, "I didn't have any paint, but I did have a safety pin!" And then she started talking about oppositional impulses again.

Back in the small hallway, Hassold is showing only one painting and three wall sculptures. The painting, Random Symmetry (Ex-sanguinated), is based on her blood Rorschachs but is writ large and in other media. It's inkblot via Dal—each delicate sepia-and-ocher wash of an independent element is also an interdependent element in at least four other schema. There are clear cross-sections of bone marrow and meat, and the floppy ears of the sad bunny at the center of the painting also form two kissing chipmunks (no shit!). And the chipmunks' ears? They are slabs of cheese. Tillamook, to be precise.

The sculptures are bone-colored, Hassold's typical O'Keeffian sensuality and femininity blended with the raw terror and ever-rising gorge that makes her so oppositional in her impulses and stuff. Here, even as modest a medium as "clear push pins," which are holding up some ganglionic wires, can be made to sparkle like jewels, albeit not very precious ones. Rhinestones, maybe, which are as cheap and tawdry as Hassold likes them. Meanwhile, in the middle of the assemblage, pincers come at you like the jaws from the belly in Alien.

It's a man eater, and in Hassold's world, what's dead stays dead.

Laurie Hassold's "Random Symmetry" in the Theatre Gallery at Concordia University, 1530 Concordia W., Irvine, (949) 854-8002, Ext. 1509. Open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through April 30. Free.


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