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Alfonso Volo at Hallwalls

Hallwalls, Buffalo’s internationally recognized and widely respected community resource for artists of all disciplines, is providing a spacious venue for Alfonso Volo’s manic menagerie, entitled Thrifting for Beauty. For context on this pixilated phantasmagoria, one might look to the obsessive/compulsive walking daydreamers in any secondhand store. Volo, like many artists, sees simulacra to the human condition in the ceramic, Hummelesque figures offered for sale on rummage tables and flea markets for a quick fix of sentimental adrenalin. Older adults especially seem to find a measure of comfort in these homey curios, patting and straightening them, certainly dusting them in the course of mundane domestic chores.

Volo plucks such touchstones from their respective shelf lives and repurposes them to his own mercurial modus operandi. In the world of Volo, Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit and Crusader Rabbit morph into Matt Groening’s fez-wearing rabbit from Life in Hell, while Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck do a doppelganger to the tune of “Rabbit Season, Duck Season.” The issues that connect the points on Volo’s compass are not merely china knickknacks in cute hand-stitched get-ups, but link intimations of dark matters of the soul. While a single visit to this show may not provide clues enough to satisfy suspicions that Volo’s work is largely a self-indulgent mania for a certain kind of kitsch object (call it angst-mensch), his frequent additions of evidentiary assault point to the artist’s overlapping concerns for animal rights. while his computer animation’s wan calculus offers ominous conclusions about humanity’s inevitable collisions with nature.

When in 1970 the German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys cradled a dead hare and posed with it in the guise of instruction, he made a space for Volo’s preoccupation with the icons of hunting lust. When in 1971 Dennis Oppenheim posted a chained German shepherd dog at each corner of a rectilinear installation at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City, he entitled it guarded space. Jeff Koon’s massive Flower Puppies also pointed to the use of domestic creatures to put a fine point on the relationship between humans and animals; think of the They Might Be Giants song “Little Birdhouse in Your Soul.” Such lyrical visitations make a good fit for Volo’s ruminations on animal cartoon amanuensis. What curator John Massier called “the tidy moral lesson” of animal-based fables is in recess here. Minimalist vignettes play out on Volo’s mirrored stage sets, with little critter stand-ins for our systemized, desensitized society that allows us to keep actuarial body counts projecting the risk-assessment of continued existence for favored species.

Volo’s aesthetic is quixotic and disarming, and yet his array of miscellaneous tchotchkes project a coldly prescienct strategist, maneuvering his trinkets for maximum novelty of precision and sustained impact.

j. tim raymond

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