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Big Babies and More - Two Installations at Hallwalls
by Jack Foran
Two Installations at Hallwalls
Everybody loves babies, right? Well, yes and no. Or sometimes yes, other times not so much. Like when the unabating self-centeredness—a survival mechanism, we know, but could you ever give us a break—becomes truly wearying.
Shelby A. Baron’s depictions at Hallwalls of an infant and sundry accoutrements capture some of the ambivalence we feel about babies. The huge drawings capture the imperious, demanding aspect of a baby in the way they commandeer the gallery wall space, and drawing details delve well beneath superficial cuteness into the complex and not always so pleasant to sight or smell baby mechanics.
On the other hand, you never lose the sense that this baby is a love object in every way—love subject might be more accurate terminology—all about the two-way street of giving and getting love, and unless something is seriously awry in the ambient social situation, going to evoke love beyond the imagination—even artistic-grade imagination—of the designated keepers.
But ambivalence seems to be the controlling concept here. Drawing particulars focus attention on intestines and other inner organs. What we get prominently in these depictions are manifold suggestions of bodily valves and conduits and associated alimentary and eliminational processes.
Baby mechanics, in other words. But not just as mechanics of organisms, but sometimes in mechanical mechanical representations. As in one part of a large drawing of a baby hand or fist. Or maybe hand manqué. Maybe with missing fingers or a thumb. (The news the new parent doesn’t want to hear.) Visible possible ligaments and stitching hinting at reconstructive surgery. Some machined pieces in the wrist hinting at prosthesis. Ideas about cute are out the window. This is hard reality.
The ambivalence can shade to sinister. You know how babies can look like old men. This one, with its copious wrinkles and fat folds, makes flashing reference to Dick Cheney. (The baby will grow out of that. Please. But one day might come back from one of Cheney’s wars—their sequels at least will surely still be going—to be fitted with prostheses. Or worse. More news about their baby parents don’t want to hear.)
The title of Baron’s installation is Big Fat Baby. Art history references abound, from a million religious nativity paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the present-day ubiquitous over-the-crib essential-item mobile, the invention of artist Alexander Calder. What did babies do for crib entertainment before Calder? It takes six months or a year before baby can dexterously manipulate a rattle. A mobile is entertaining (and no doubt educational) from the time the baby can focus.
There’s a rattle here, in addition to the mobile. Both seem to feature intestine imagery. (Or is that just me?)
In the remainder of the Hallwalls gallery are Tim Roby’s artworks of inchoate signing emerging from deconstructed remnants of some wall and ceiling partitions erected for a gallery previous exhibit.
Out of rubble piles of torn pieces of plaster board rise two flag-like constructions consisting of jury-rigged two-by-fours for the poles, and for the flag proper parts, sculptural generalized grids of what looks like hand-applied and hand-molded plaster of Paris, and painted yellow. It’s in the nature of flags to signify. But just what these flags signify is anybody’s guess. Roby is interested in signs as signs, more than any specific signifying activity.
To largely similar effect, a painting/drawing depicts a nondescript base or basement and rising from it several of what could be railroad-type semaphores—vertical poles with attached extensions positionable in line with the pole, at a right angle to the pole, or oblique to the pole. All of these are oblique. The “caution” position. Fair warning about overinterpretation.
The title of Roby’s installation is Objects of Venerable Decay, but although the deconstruction/destruction aspects are prominent—there’s lots of rubble here—the few constructed elements are what catch the eye.
Other plaster of Paris or plaster and wood constructions include a caterpillar-like object vaguely reminiscent of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. White in this case, with a bright pink stripe down the middle of its back. Another plaster of Paris piece half hidden away in a little alcove has an iconic grid/globe/cage form.
In each of the plaster of Paris constructions, the plaster has an attractively palpable quality—the caterpillar wants to be petted—versus the rough-edged quality of the torn plaster board and the unfinished two-by-fours with their hazardous-looking protruding screw fasteners for the now removed plaster board.
In addition to the rubble piles, some of the plaster board has been trimmed to approximately one-foot squares and stacked and crudely packaged, as if for recycling.
This is work in progress without the usual ironic note to that formulation. What is admirable is the uncompromising character of the work. The artist’s stubborn refusal to be rushed or pushed to figure it all out, what the signs signify, where this project is going. The project is a journey, and it’s the journey that matters, not the goal or destination.
The Tim Roby and Shelby A. Baron installations continue through March 4.
—jack foranblog comments powered by Disqus
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