A Sublime Farewell From Lutz Bacher at UCI, and an Escape Via Naida Osline at OCCCA

Heroic Dose (magic mushrooms), 2013, from the series Visionary Plants. Image courtesy of Naida Osline

While thankfully never specifically mentioned, No. 45 is all over late artist Lutz Bacher’s four-part multimedia installation “Blue Wave,” located in different parts of UC Irvine’s Contemporary Arts Center and University Art Galleries. 

The title piece is a 14-minute, two-channel HD video projection of a blue tarp, rippling deliciously in the wind around the time of the 2018 mid-term election. Calming, even with the artist’s jittery camera work and accompanying loud traffic sounds, it’s a readymade visual, in the Duchamp slap-your-name-on-something-already-existing-and-call-it-art meaning, as well as a joyous conceptual vision of what was happening in Congress at the time.

As a photo, there’s nothing overtly fascinating about 2018’s Rocket, a lobby-sized color picture on vinyl of a dismantled rocket lying on a track. In this day of phallocentric politicians bragging about the size of their junk, while limiting women’s access to birth control or talking wildly about vague “space forces,” it reads as hopeful. Not as a deconstructed America—though that reading also works—but as a bracingly backhanded symbol of anti-patriarchy. 

Moskva (2019)—“Moscow” in Russian—involves 96 digital pigment prints of rearranged texts taken from spy novels that are hanging on the walls, sometimes on top of one another, obscuring the pages underneath or lying on the floor as if leftovers from some sort of frenzied search. Echoing William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique, its lurid xeroxed sex scenes obsessed with pubic hair and swollen “ruby fruit,” intermingling with grade-Z dialogue and intermittent Russian words, makes for a campy read. As mentioned in organizer Monica Majoli’s thoughtful curator notes, the installation echoes the redactions in the Mueller Report, but there’s also a smidgen of psychopathology, as if someone absorbed in conspiracies has tried to lay out their cockeyed evidence in drips and drabs as they attempt to make confused sense of it. 

Step into an otherwise-closed utility closet in the same gallery and experience Bacher’s 2018-2019 Modules: one desk, one monitor and two hours of videos about the artist’s process, meant to be experienced at random. The 15 minutes I watched involved smoke machines in a small space, filling the room with white clouds until everything disappears from view, with the only thing left the voice of the artist. It’s a sublime, entirely unintentional goodbye. 

“Blue Wave: Lutz Bacher” at UC Irvine’s University Art Gallery and Contemporary Arts Center Gallery, 712 Arts Plaza, Irvine, (949) 824-9854; uag.arts.uci.edu. Open Tues.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Through Dec. 14. Free (though you do have to pay for parking).

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The short run of “Naida Osline: Chasing Clouds” at the Orange County Center for Contemporay Art closes Friday, so it may already be gone by the time that you read this. 

But I hope not because it’s one of the best shows of the year. 

Eight prints of scanned plants and flowers floating in a pitch-black background are the first images of the show. Florescence features Frankenstein vegetations created by the artist from parts of other plants, insects, animals and completely artificial ephemera, with vivid colors popping amid odd hybrid greenery. The theme of renegade nature builds in the related Untitled Series of chromogenic prints, with its images of imaginary Cronenbergian parasites budding from the human body. Like skin tags with teeth, the eruptions from hairy chests, belly buttons infected with crawling tendrils and creases of flesh red-rimmed by . . . shudder. The less said about these effective monstrosities the better, but then the horrible/erotic continues in Poppyhead, a quintet of sliced opium seed pods, each oozing jizzy sap, with the heads of the plants in a background of cloudy sky. 

That overinflated respect for mind-altering chemicals is further suggested in Osline’s oversized Visionary Plants—photographs of jimsonweed, cannabis, somniferum, magic mushrooms and the very poisonous Angel’s Trumpet—some hovering over cityscapes, seas and mountains like ancient gods. Tattooed Tobacco’s photographs of dangling brown leaves imprinted with images of slaves, Christopher Columbus and barbed-wire hearts (a cogent symbol for addiction) are exquisite: Lit from behind, they resemble stained glass, with some evoking dirtied lungs, others a designer chrysalis waiting for a tumor to emerge. Likewise, the show’s titular exhibit of people vaping: Are these photos of a séance or a funeral—or just pretty pictures of people destroying their health? All three? Some eyes are opened, others closed, the individuals in the portraits—oval-shaped in a way that resembles Victorian mirrors—caught in moments of idyllic intoxication. (Strip the color from them, and they’d vaguely look like fanciful postmortem photographs, the individual visages enveloped in ectoplasmic shrouds.)

The beauty of Osline’s vision is that she brings to the forefront the entire reason for art in the first place: a desire for the new, the beautiful and the transcendent, whether it’s an escape from the mind, the body or just one’s social circumstances. Her phantasmagorical work, rooted in the (un)real, offers us the following advice: If you can’t find it, retreat to your imagination, manipulating the imperfect reality you’ve been handed—remaking, tweaking and transforming by any means necessary—until it becomes what you need.

“Naida Osline: Chasing Clouds” at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517; www.occca.org. Open Thurs.-Fri., Nov. 28-29, noon-5 p.m. (Holiday hours may differ, so check the website before heading over.) Free.

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