Levity and laughter often strike the funny tuning fork of our lives, and Lora Reynolds Gallery finds the perfect pitch with the new group show aptly titled SLAPstick.
Working clockwise through the installation, you may find that your initial reaction is a matter of simple indecision. The chicken carcass bobbing on someone's foot seems enticing, but the transvestite operatic overture also looks alluring and absurd. Finding your way through each performative video work requires equal amounts of curiosity and patience.
In Blot Out the Sun, Harrell Fletcher plucks philosophical phrases from the pages of James Joyce's Ulysses and reanimates them through the voices of several Oregonian mechanics. The beauty that catapults this piece into pure, mirthful heaven rises from the amateur actors themselves. Earnest lines such as "Be a prism. You can rub shoulders with Jesus," and "Yes. So we are flowers. I was a flower on a mountain," are delivered in timid, staccato cadences that make the words simple and refreshing. Reading lines provided somewhere off camera, each mechanic adds his own awkward inflections, self-fulfilling emphases, and generous energy to words traditionally reviewed in silent solitude.
The same work of literature serves as dialogue material for the residents at Parkville Senior Center in the lovely state of Connecticut. Mortality stands center stage in The Problem of Possible Redemption with its images of sweet, weathered faces delivering clever lines with alacrity and high spirits. One retired gentleman offers this observation, "God made food. The devil cooks." On camera, he gets a cell phone call, and the guilty sideways glance he gives the viewer couldn't be funnier. Though both demographic groups read from the same book, the senior citizens easily breeze through the lines with absolute confidence and charm.
Mads Lynnerup has invented his own sense of humor in six short videos, one loop abutting four others in two side-by-side televisions. The left side features Untying a Shoe with an Erection, a rather laconic, yet thought-tickling attempt to get your mind swimming around in lascivious pranks and middle school ennui. Prior to reading the title, the viewer may see the work only as a dunce's lame joke. It's a genial companion to the series of four dork-out sessions featured on the right-side television screen. In order not to ruin every joke, let's just say there's a reason Mads lives in a state better known as "the land of fruits and nuts." (That's California, folks.)
Van Elk's video, framed as a drawing, deserves kudos for its intriguing presentation, yet the joke takes too long and gets lost amid the other, larger images in the gallery. Pilson's triptych features three simultaneous versions of one maladroit office drone trying desperately to pick up a catastrophe of scattered files near his desk. This corporate jackass shows us how perhaps barbiturates and business don't mix, but he is no Lucille Ball when it comes to that kind of butterfingers hijinks. The residual Robert Therrien ladder to nowhere installed next to Pilson's videos adds a nice dimension to the messy performance in progress, introducing an absurdly aimless element of playfulness.
San Francisco-based curator Christopher Eamon delivers punchy slapstick with this carefully condensed exhibition. Some of the work teeters on disturbing precipices, letting gallows humor drift through the videos in unpredictable bursts.
Two works located in the back of the gallery space explore pixelated moments of repulsion and enticement. Feminist performance artist Nina Sobell punctures preconceived notions of poultry with her unsettling combination of mollycoddling a $2 chicken carcass and maiming innocuous eggs. Which came first? The raw slipper that once doubled as dinner seems likely, but Sobell doesn't care about that. She wants this birdie to sing. After a few minutes of watching such a Dadaist spectacle, you can feel a malaise begin to permeate the space. Add another video of oozing, slow-motion rubber bands slowly retracting from the razor's edge that an artist is using to open up the innards of a golf ball…and the denouement fractures funny bones into a brittle little pile of puzzlement.
Ulysses makes a good point to end this full circle of madcap indulgences:
"Goose becomes featherbed…all days will make their end."
All things to contemplate tonight when you drift into a hypnogogic bliss.
Images courtesty Lora Reynolds Gallery.
Michelle Gonzalez Valdez is an artist and writer living in San Antonio.