Drop In, Tune Out, Turn On
Photo by James BunoanThe bed is disgusting. For one, it's tilted up from the floor as though it's about to start wobbling across the floor of its own free will—wasn't there a walking bed, most likely named Beddy, hanging out with Mrs. Rambling Teapot in Disney's Beauty and the Beast? Or am I thinking of Pee-Wee's Playhouse?—and walking beds are just plain wrong. But far grosser, its layers are carved away in the middle. The salmon-colored brocade covering has an oval cut through it, exposing a ring of nasty cottony insulation like a gaping round mouth full of teeth. And below that there's the icky gray linty stuff looking like so much schmutzy bacteria. Is that what we sleep on every night? Where are the space-age, sterile springs and coils of the mattress commercials that come on every night at 1:45 for the insomniac among us?
A.M. Hoch's "Mitosis: The Formation of Daughter Cells" is a squabbling affair, filled with discord and the ranker elements of families trapped together. It's the unniceties. Her installation at UC Irvine's Beall Center for Art and Technology is brimming with chicken wire; toilet seats; rusted, seatless chairs; piles of dirty laundry; and all the ironing boards and oven ranges that trap us in domestic chores. But they're all nicely hidden behind canvas walls that actually bulge with their secrets.
Despite the effluvia, "Mitosis" isn't one of those installations that's just a collection of "found art" junk. Maybe because of the way Hoch (and the Beall Center) have installed the work with plenty of negative space in between the disparate elements, it's one of the few ambient works that actually draws you in to wander and discover more from each of the piles instead of just overwhelming you. That Alice in Wonderland-sized door set into the floor? There's a tiny film being shown in the doorknob. The slovenly mattress like that in a flophouse? Its message changes every few moments.
Instead, it's the audio that's overwhelming.
With the voice talents of Wallace Shawn ("Never get involved in a land war in Asia") and playwright Deborah Eisenberg, three drawers with hidden speakers pop in and out of the family's walls, screeching about masturbation and a daughter's "illness"—whether schizophrenia, some Firestarter- or Carrie-like telepathy, or just plain puberty and the onset of sexuality is unclear—while elsewhere a voice reads passages from the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. Trembling heavens and fishhooks, indeed.
Maya: "I do masturbate!" Mother: "You most certainly do not, Maya!" Father: "You are making that up!" Rumi: The body is not opaque to the soul, nor the soul to the body, still no one can see the soul. Narrator (mitosis): In telophase, the separated daughter chromosomes arrive at the poles and the kinetochore microtubules disappear.
See, that's a lot going on all at once: the comparison of a messy, repressed, fraught-with-ironing-boards biological family with the neat and perfect cell division of mitosis. So does it really need Rumi, too—as much as everyone loves him? (I've always found books of Rumi's love poems to be an excellent and very romantic wedding gift. Try it!) Why not get a loop of Dr. Laura while we're at it to tie in to the hectoring repression? And stills from Days of Our Lives to show housewife daytime captivity? And Einstein talking about nuclear war for that "sciencey" flava? And Eisenhower talking about the military-industrial complex to tie in with the Einstein? And a loop of Tammy Faye Baker as Laura from The Glass Menagerie? And a kitchen sink? Have we got a kitchen sink, people? Oh, it's right there in the wall? Excellent.
While I know it's true that American parents have a difficult time facing their daughters' sexuality (or was that schizophrenia?), the way it's presented here is like something out of The Crucible . . . or The Exorcist, come to think of it. Maya can read her father's thoughts. She hears voices. And she masturbates.
(No, she doesn't! She's making it up!)
Like with a crying baby, the best way to experience "Mitosis" is to tune it out. Listen selectively. You don't need the Rumi. You don't need the cell division. You don't even need the melodramatic family members screeching and wailing. You don't need to be told what to think, do you? Instead, imagine it's silent as a city that's 10 thousand years extinct, and you are the lucky archaeologist. All you need to know is in those convex walls, in the unloved medium of found art.
"Mitosis: The Formation of Daughter Cells" at UC Irvine's Beall Center for Art and Technology, W. Peltason & Pereira, Irvine, (949) 824-6206. Open Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.; Fri., noon-8 p.m. Through Sat.
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