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Eugene Weekly : Visual Arts : 5.31.07

Otherworldly

Thoughtful MFA show takes many a journey

BY SUZI STEFFEN

Worldbuilding: That's what science fiction and fantasy writers do, and if they're good, they bring their readers along. In the current terminal MFA show up at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the UO campus, the artists perform similar feats, reflecting our world's absurdity or creating new worlds from within their psyches, using various materials to transport the viewers. Though the show is uneven, some of the work is good, some is superb, and all of it is worth some time.

Hoa Lan Tran's 11 am
Beth Greene's Untitled
Robin Cushman's Suburban Swank
Adrian Freuen's Pangeisis

To begin with the flat (as in, on the wall) work: Robin Cushman's playful digital photos of a Seattle garden bring wry commentary to the show. Cushman notes in her iTour, available on the J-Schnitz's five iPods (bring your driver's license for a deposit), that garden shows are peculiarly American because they're held "indoors, in a space where nothing can actually grow." Suburban Swank points up this contrast with plastic-covered chaise lounges settled bizarrely in the midst of fluorescent-lit lawn, martini glasses and bowls of nuts perched on a little table. Did we just walk into a set from the 1999 movie Blast from the Past? I wouldn't be surprised to see Sissy Spacek emerging from the cinderblock window to take in the water feature, the tulips in boxes and the neatly mown grass before wandering off along the cement paths of the warehouse to another location — perhaps the one in Afternoon Delight, where she could gaze out over neatly labeled plants at a photo of the Seattle skyline. Cushman's work shows spark and whimsical enjoyment of the contrasts in a culture consumed with the fake representation of the real.

Painter Robert Adams, who has exhibited tirelessly in the Willamette Valley, also seems interested in digging up layers of meaning. His Selective Memory shows strata of consciousness, working inward from an outer pop art rectangle, Lichtenstein-like in execution, then to a snapshot-like black and white layer, with a heart-red rectangle jumping out of the center. Inspired by Josef Albers and perhaps Jo Baer, not to mention his internal motivations and thoughts, Adams shows the nesting levels that form human consciousness.

Adrian Freuen, a printmaker, creates woodcuts that at first glance deal more with physical science than with inner worlds. The two largest, Disseminate 1 and Disseminate 2, resembles an abstracted Wizard Island at Crater Lake. But the pieces also look to memory, learning and abstract ideas. Pangeisis mixes 18th-century Linnean precision with the micro-fascination of a modern Swiftian world — tiny figures swing from parachutes in the middle of a greenish ovoid that gives associations of snakeskin, red blood cells and ribbed paper figurines. It's a potent mix.

Two of the strongest pieces in the show stand down the wall from Freuen's compositions: Patricia Wyman's "nullus titulus" and Beth Greene's Middle Ground. Wyman's piece combines with her Fragments of an untold narrative to unfold precise, brilliantly colored new thoughts on stability and repetition. Greene, who's getting her MFA in metals and jewlery, podcasts a quote from Czeslaw Milosz to say drawing can sometimes seem "as if taken from a shelf, already existing." In Middle Ground, a world does seem to exist: The huge scale of the background white paper combines neatly — if eerily — with the tracings and projections of fine wire forms. The forms make shadows, but some of the shadows have been transcribed into two-dimensional forms with a pencil, pen or other implement, and some of the paper projects outward, in tiny, neat rips that mirror the wire. Greene seems to be recording a world, a tiny world with people or creatures so complete in themselves that our looking closely at the work only confirms the existence of planet Greene.

And what of planet technology? Multimedia artist Carl Diehl is more than willing to bring visitors from the land of the new to the ghosty world of "residual media" like a Mac Classic near reams of hard-shelled floppy disks residing in a flip-through disk container. The desk on which the tiny-screened computer rests contains motherboards, dismembered cell phones and other e-waste, and the whole thing is part of Diehl's elaborate Paranormal Machine display. With old-school Dymo labels stuck all over the place, instructions firmly telling viewers to slip some of that "DAMNED DATA" on the floppies into the open drive or to "TAKE ONE" of the CDs that connect to Diehl's websites, the display wanders in a self-referential world of classification and organization that threatens to destabilize what humans know about the "progress" of technology. I deeply enjoyed this work with its walk-the-line-of-insanity techno ghost world.

Yvonne Stubbs' bloodline is a performance piece that she'll recreate Wednesday, June 13, but her disembodied red dress shines with interest as it waits to fulfill its purpose. Listening to her voice on her iTour gives some idea yet fails to convey the full meaning behind her work. I hear she's often around the museum and can be convinced to create the performance sometimes — just ask!

Finally, to mention two other lovely works: Hoa-Lan Tran's Waking Life/Dreaming Life, a woodcut-acrylic-gold leaf-watercolor-chine collé thing of beauty, with long scrolls for each hour of the day set up in an open circle, colors shining for daytime hours and muted for the night. Images (a crown of thorns, a butterfly) float in various scrolls, but sharply defined squares near the top of each hanging connect every hour to the next. And Amelia Raley's charming Oh My! This Screen Reflects My Sky: Vintage Vivants in the Digital Age showcases her fascination with "time traveling" and adopting some of the past, a time she says runs from 1920 to 1948. The black and white photos of film stars, the carefully recreated piece of furniture and the velvet hearts lead to the world of elegance celebrated by, say, Cole Porter.

Visiting these artists' worlds (plus more I didn't have room for) is easy: This show (more like many mini-shows, to quote a student at the exhibition) runs through June 17 at the JSMA.