"Dr. Schleidan at work within the black hole."
"Dr. Schleidan at work within the black hole."

'Devo Mixed With Seventh Grade'

The art world is grounded in suspension of disbelief—a most unsound principle—whether it's asking you to accept as art those papier-mch Siamese cats at Orange County Museum of Art's biennial or the velvet paintings of bikers and senoritas at a recent J. Flynn Gallery show. They looked like something you'd buy driving back from Tijuana—but as art? The biker painting sold for $200 opening night. In your face, Picasso's La Reve!

All of which makes the Office's current offering, "Single Cell/The League of Imaginary Scientists" acceptable and still rather challenging. This is one of the county's smallest galleries, so any show that shrinks its three cozy little rooms (400 square feet, tops) to one—by blocking off two of those rooms—had better have some damn art going on. Which "Single Cell" kinda does—provided you leave your belief outside. (And really, why would you need belief; this is science, not the immaculate conception or something.)

The premise is that late on the night of Nov. 11, 2005, one of the team of imaginary scientists ("Dr. Stephan Schleidan") was working in his lab when he was sucked into the black hole Q0906+6930, and that he's been stuck there ever since, working on experiments. So: it was/is performance art. And black holes? They exist? The black hole in this case looks awfully much like the next room—blocked off with a door that wasn't there before, and with a kind of a magnifying glass window so you could watch Dr. Schleidan pour colored liquids into various beakers and think deep thoughts.

"Imagine your favorite blue gingham shirt," one of the "scientists" said on video, explaining the black hole. "Now imagine hitting it with enough force to tear it. This is a black hole. Now imagine traveling through this hole. You could end up anywhere in your shirt—at any time in your shirt." Dry humor! Yay! This, plus "Dr. Schleidan" and a few artifacts on exhibit (some "lackadaisical matter" that resembled solder; a can of "returned official [tennis] balls") was all there was. The Office is really small.

The cool part at the reception was, not only could you read Schleidan's thoughts while drinking Tang (keeping with the space/science theme)—you could send him stuff via the molecular transmitter that looked uncommonly like a barbecue painted silver. And yet? Not a barbecue. "When you send it, it will rematerialize in a more vivid form," explained "Dr. L. Hernandez Gomez," a brunette "professor of inverse biology"—study of the external state of the internal organs. (That's what she said.) So it did: send a pen by pushing a button on the barbecue, and it magically appeared on the blackboard in the black hole. "That reminds me of humanity," Dr. Schleidan mused in a thought balloon. Send over your keys, and he got all misty: "Am I Dr. Schleidan any more? No matter." Poor Dr. Schleidan.

"If you read the log of his psychological state, you see how lonely he is," the woman portraying Dr. Gomez said. "He'll probably never be the same again." It was true, on a tiny TV screen: black holes made him sad.

" . . . utilizing conformal transverse-traceless method conformal decomposition that adjusts the metric vector potential," the state of his mind read, on a cathode tube. He was wilting like a rare flower. Did anyone care?

"Probably he knows this is the way to fame in the scientific community," Dr. Gomez said, a bit snippily; she would have traded places with him in a minute. Social climber.

"It's Devo mixed with seventh grade," a guy with curly hair said, watching us line up to teleport Dr. Schleidan the contents of our pockets. Which it was—except for some of us, Devo was seventh grade.



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