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Strange Science 

The press release was fraught with intrigue. "Exuberant and full blooded, Maiden Louisiana draws the viewer into a strange and fantastic universe ... Dreamlike forms arise from the merging of plant and animal, human and mechanical. The body is explored with both darkness and humor, the result is a charged visceral experience for the audience." It sounded vaguely ominous. Would it even be safe for unescorted males to visit?

Well, yes, but it is an unusual show. Although all of the artists are women, it may owe as much to sci-fi/fantasy as to feminism. For instance, Gossip by Janet Luru features some gnarly twisted tree trunks with human heads (with donkey ears) sprouting from their branches. Each head is a life cast of the artist's visage and they appear in full gossip mode, chattering to each other like otherworldly rumor-mongers. Gossip is often associated with girls, but Luru makes it, literally, universal.

No less E.T. in tone are Shae O'Brien's fantastical welded metal biological specimens. Ebb and Flow are amorphous squiggly metallic blobs, oversized amoeboid things. As beautiful as Gila monsters, with shimmering skin made of welded metal disks, they appear frozen as if in mid-undulation. In Population Explosion, strange lilies blossom like bromeliads in a Venusian rain forest. My favorite is Biohazard (The De-Evolution of Wisdom). Here those lurid banana tree flowers that are often seen dangling on long, pendulous stalks, are replicated in metal, but here the stalks are composed of bony vertebrae like some new, hybrid species.

Bonita Day takes otherworldliness another step further in Reclamation. Ever notice the way melons, connected by vines, grow large on the ground? Now imagine these convoluted cross-sections of brain-like things the size of melons, attached to each other by coils of metal conduit. Day works in clay, and her plot of melon brains rests on a patch of actual earth. But what does it mean? Let's just say that there's probably a feminine principle at work despite the George Lucas aura. Actually, the feminine is at its most elegant in Mapo Kinnord-Payton's work, in Daddy's Little Angel, which resembles a clay yoni (personal feminine space) of the sort seen in Hindu shrines, only here a little girl like an ebony Byzantine icon is enshrined at the entrance. In Loss is similar, but this collaboration between Kinnord and Jacqueline Bishop is beautifully and elaborately painted with a skein of sepia leaves. In its altar-like hollow, dead, blackened birds are jumbled below a fiery sky, and here the death goddess is at work, aided by locust swarms of real estate developers (in an allusion to the burning of Brazil's Amazon rain forests).

Brit transplant Coral Lambert waxes poetic on the back wall with stanzas of verse traversed by cast-iron wings in Fly by Night, which offers tantalizing contrasts between soaring words and densely heavy wings. Weight also figures into Anna Belenki's quirky Ceramic Lifter, a weight lifting device that resembles a pair of conjoined breasts. A series of small photos shows women working out with them in a zany take on cosmetic exercise that gives the term "uplift" a whole new resonance. Probably the creepiest piece is Alair Wells' elaborate House of Trade, a wooden shed filled with little bottles of icky stuff -- finger prophylactics, tiny plastic babies, biopsied organs -- accompanied with an invitation to take one and leave something of your own behind. Hmmm. Here as elsewhere, the theme is the body as an experimental laboratory, a place of wonders and weirdness. Curator Chicory Miles' own work bears this out. Genetic Incarnation is a mandala arrangement of what looks from a distance like amber glass stars on the wall. Up close, the stars are lotus petals containing four babies. Why? In Asian mythology, the lotus symbolizes rebirth, and deities are often depicted on lotus leaves. But these lotuses are synthetic, cast resin, and so are the identical infants contained on each, all of which suggests cloning, the Western attempt at playing God, as the title insinuates. Most women still bear children the old-fashioned way, but the body -- especially the female body -- is increasingly a laboratory for a brave new world of strange science, hence the sci-fi overtones of this peculiar, but often provocative, show.

click to enlarge Chicory Miles' Genetic Incarnation evokes the Eastern mandala, while also insinuating Western attempts to play God.
  • Chicory Miles' Genetic Incarnation evokes the Eastern mandala, while also insinuating Western attempts to play God.
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