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Mutants and Mysteries 

It's a cliche but it's true: Life is change. Try as we may to cling to the familiar comforts, stuff happens. The wheel turns and suddenly it's a new ballgame, as the ancients knew so well -- which is why the figures in their myths were often shape-shifters who might turn up in various guises and forms. Nowadays we are too cool to buy into such fables, even as we blithely consume GM (genetically modified) foods like corn chips containing shark or wolverine genes or what have you. Naturally, the USDA doesn't require companies to tell you what is actually in the GM corn in your Doritos.

So we are now at a curious point where science has replaced myth as the locus of shape-shifting entities, something artists such as Chicory Miles have not failed to notice. Her cast-resin, bronze or iron sculptures suggest creatures of mythic portent, yet most were inspired by transgenic experiments. The title piece of her current show, Earose, is a kind of fleshly flower, a cast-iron rose; only here the petals are earlobes. And if that seems a little TOO weird, then you better not inquire too deeply into what you've had for dinner lately. Here the rose, an ancient symbol of mystical transcendence, becomes an icon of transgenic mutation, a kind of transcendence no mystic ever contemplated.

In Sheep in Swaddling Clothes a pair of cast-resin sheep are seemingly wrapped in the ancient biblical manner. Taking her cues from Dolly and other cloned sheep, Miles invoked the swaddling reference to put them in a broader, mythic, perspective, an approach also seen in Everything I've Always Wanted, a series of cast-iron wall sculptures depicting three women, each with six breasts attached to two torsos emanating from one pelvis. If they sound like medieval she-demons, Miles' treatment is warm and homey, reminiscent of those antique cast-iron wall plaques with snippets of country-folk wisdom painted on them. These iron women need no such inscriptions; their manifold charms and attributes speak for them. Here Miles applies ancient ideas and vintage finishes to the brave, new -- and more insidious than we realize -- world of transgenic science.

The Three Points of View expo of conceptual concoctions by Nene Humphrey, Sharon Jacques and Elisabeth Shannon at Heriard-Cimino offers permutations instead of mutations, as well as surprises and surmises. Oddly, the pieces that look most like Elizabeth Shannon's vintage found object sculptures are actually by Sharon Jacques. Shannon instead gives us little plastic horses sans riders, apparently right out the box and mounted on Formica platforms. In Stampede I they appear arranged in regimental order, but in Stampede 2 they are in disarray, presided over by a cowboy with a lariat atop a coil spring. Shannon says they're metaphors, but of what? Mad Cowboy Disease?

Meanwhile, it looks as if Sharon Jacques had a good time taking bits and pieces of plywood and old wooden furniture and splicing them into objects that suggest themes from art history, "a reconciliation of past and present." Seat features a bit of Larry Riversesque weathered plywood with a bold white letter L on it grafted to an arm, leg and back of an ornate wooden chair, yielding a marriage of minimalism and the baroque -- a shotgun marriage for sure, but an oddly commodious liaison, nonetheless.

Nene Humphrey says her woven wall-mounted works reflect her "personal history as well as collective social history." Loculus evokes a Japanese scroll painting, only here it's plum-red silk on heavy felt instead of ink on rice paper. Like coagulated plum blossoms trailing red silk tendrils, it evokes a hybrid of art nouveau and post-minimalism. Small Worlds is a constellation of tiny floral silk knots atop pins deployed on the wall in a kind of splash pattern, and here any hint of personal history remains a mystery. Instead, cool conceptualism is melded with a pleasing feminine sensibility, a decorous whiff of intimacy and intrigue that, while still opaque, may be just enough to elicit a personal response in the viewer, that necessary, if sometimes neglected, other half of any art equation.

click to enlarge In Earose, Chicory Miles applies ancient ideas - and vintage finishes to the brave, new  and often - insidious  world of genetic modification.
  • In Earose, Chicory Miles applies ancient ideas and vintage finishes to the brave, new and often insidious world of genetic modification.
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