Hallucinations become actual in  ‘Illucination’

By Paul D. Dickinson

 An installation at Parts Gallery expands the realm of photography via grand gestures, coy  understatement, distortion and a deft use of actual beauty.
 “Illucination,” curated by documentarian and photo-activist Mark Wojahn, brings  together divergent artistic forces that rally to invigorate the eye and stimulate the  brain.
 Inspired by a passage by Roland Barthes regarding the collision of illusion and  hallucination, Wojahn pushed his cabal of artists to deliver work that not only speaks of  the human condition, but comments upon a world that is often becoming less human.
 Wojahn sets a compelling tone with his piece “Within/Changes” 2001. As you walk  into the work, the hum of outdated technology blends in with the roar of Lake Street traffic. Inside a membrane of fiber and translucent plastic, the viewer is surrounded by  floating images in all directions.
 For some artists, installation art has been about irony, cynical detachment, or a war with  the “image.” Not here. Wojahn sees his work as an extension and fortification of  the photographic image—a contemplative glow that takes the viewer inward. It is as if  the fuzzed out TV, ancient projector and video device that work behind the shroud have  become a part of our natural environment. Inside this skinlike membrane, one feels a  womblike comfort where, despite all of the images, in the end, all you really have to face  is yourself. Humans have been cranking out a celluloid reality for so long that we have  become entangled in its web. We can either be trapped by it or we can, like Wojahn, bash  it around like a blacksmith does with hot metal on an anvil until it serves a higher need.
 Randall Heath’s optical boxes are cleverly twisted views into the darkness of the  soul. When you look into these slickly designed boxes, you view humor, pathos and fragmentation. What at first seems like an innocent romp of eye candy quickly degenerates  into a modern parlor game, you don’t quite know where or who you are. Twirling  mirrors, tiny toys and kitschy photos all work together to create an imploding landscape  of light, shadow and unlimited possibilities. The ultimate reflection and telling incident  about this work occurs when you finally see your own eyeball peering back at you.
 In what is the most anthropological contribution to this exhibition, Matt Bakkom’s  black and white slides of the demise of “Smart World Technology,” a dot-com business, is revealing, disturbing and hilarious. This business went down the tubes in  February, and Bakkom has served up a photographic post-mortem. Images of their trashed  offices at the World Trade Center illustrate the instability of the boom-and-bust economy,  flakiness of trends and the risks of technological speculation. I find it strangely  soothing. Right beside the slide show is a binder proclaiming the services of the  destroyed company. It is full of confidence and bravado. This work is history as it  happens and a fascinating look into the bizarre machinations of industry.
 The photographs by Bridget Shields are lyrical in their color and provocative in their  content. The many shots of corners and other seemingly “lost” spaces show the viewer that life takes place in less than obvious locations. Shields has a spylike quality  to her work. She pulls brilliant colors out of the atmosphere and presents freeze-frame  moments that illustrate deep drama churning undiscovered under the surface of reality. The  lush beauty of these images wrap around the corner of the gallery and draw the viewer in.  These shots are from many different locations (Morocco, New York, Minneapolis), yet they  all have the same gracious interpretation of place.
Potter-Belmar Labs has produced a visual riddle that examines some of the very basic  structures of physics. “Two Possibilities” is this: Two monitors, side by side, show a static scene that repeats with only slight changes. It points to the battle of  matter vs. anti-matter. This work makes one believe in a parallel or mirror universe. Is there a world that lies in reaction to the world we perceive as real? Can we get lost in  between, fall through the cracks and be caught in an endless loop? Who can truly claim  that it isn’t happening right now?
Our voyeuristic habits are put on display by Barbra Nei in her work  “Auto-da-Fe.” Nei has brought a term, coined in the Inquisition that means  public announcement of death sentences, into the modern world and used it to scrutinize  our current forms of violence and execution. We have since euphemized the language, yet we  are just as savage. We have a desire to watch people die. A projector in the middle of the  room rotates, throwing an image upon blank pages that scroll down from the ceiling. The  image projected is a crowd staring out at the center of the room. My feeling was this: Am  I in the grave? Or shot and dumped in some ditch? Or are these people condemned, and I am  the executioner? The blank paper symbolizes the power of history—whoever has the  power decides how it will be written. In addition, there are pages crammed full of text  that describe tragedy, death and execution. Culled from news reports, these endless  stories point to the fact that we are constantly barraged with a melody of death and  violence as we become desensitized zombies.
 Jean-Paul Bourdier has found a new way to rig up reality—he colors it, taking natural  landscapes, adding color and photographing them. Three massive prints hang in a row. There  is no computer manipulation, the grass is really blue! These images are of lovely western  landscapes that burn with an artificial glory. Instead of capturing an image, in nature,  he concocts a reality and makes an image from it.
 As these artists struggle with the forces of life and make their art respond accordingly,  they have transformed simple representation into illusion and  hallucination—illucination.

 The Exhibition runs through July 21st
 @ Parts Gallery 711 West Lake Street
 (612) 824-5500

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