For city dwellers, nothing is more ordinary than automobile tires. But if new tires suggest a smooth ride into the future, the abandoned tires that litter distressed neighborhoods symbolize blight, and nobody wants them — except Chakaia Booker, who makes them into mysterious artworks. Evoking tribal African sculpture and the twisted viscera of modern industrial devices, the works hint at art history and science fiction. Mixed Messages is a mass of inky, tangled treads and tire walls topped with a bulbous headlike form looming over serpentine tentacles slithering down the pedestal on which it rests, and it resembles the sort of sea monster Jules Verne might have concocted after a prescient nightmare about the BP oil disaster. In Privilege of Eating, swirls of shredded tires coagulate like barnacles with junk and shovels protruding from within, suggesting strange forces that must be propitiated. Color of Hope (detail pictured), her 14-foot-wide wall sculpture of wildly looping, sliced and diced tires, is both monumental and baroque and evokes the evolution of an industry that began innocently as sap oozing from rubber trees in the jungle only to be transformed by the double-edged demon of technology into all the insidious things that serve and enslave us. In Booker's hands, their animistic qualities are expressed as contemporary spirit fetishes, forces available for good or evil but which must never be taken for granted.
Katherine Taylor's modestly scaled porcelain sculptures initially look quite innocent and domestic. Look again and her series of ambiguous black-and-white ovoids seem to relate symbiotically — not just to each other but also to Booker's Afro-futurist works in the next room. Like ceramic blobs inscribed with spirals and grids, their forms seem to writhe and wrestle with each other as if the moves of the Pilobolus dance troupe had somehow been rendered in porcelain. Organized by Tulane University's Jeremy Jernegan, the two shows, viewed together, are wonderfully surprising and provocative.