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Mind Games 

Do inanimate objects play mind games? Need I ask? Anyone who has ever renovated a house or undertaken their own car repairs knows that even the simplest bit of wood or metal has the ability to wage no end of psychological terrorism. It is said that any number of angels can fit on the head of a pin (which must be very gratifying for pin collectors), but we all know that the devil is in the details, and even ordinary objects can be demon-possessed.

But what about not-so-ordinary objects? Donald Tully's Digital Taoism and Tribal Icons exhibit is filled with improbable things, some minimal in their simplicity, while others suggest a baroque strain of tribalism. Both have their own issues to take up with the viewer. Curiously, the two series appear related only in their pervasive use of steel throughout. Ultimately, the minimal series is more devious, despite seeming simpler at first glance. It all has to do with its pervasive allusions to both Taoist symbolism (as in the I Ching) and the binary codes of computer programs. Here those boundaries are blurred in works that are both minimal and digital, techno and oracular; enigmatic reminders of all we find admirable yet infuriating in computers and the I Ching.

By contrast, the more tribal pieces sort of dare you to make sense of them. Expansive is a pointed, 6-foot-tall pylon cobbled from balusters and dowels. Enigmatic, it just sits there like a totem from some tribe of devolutionary renovators gone native after years of breathing lacquer thinner and lead paint dust. Such things are imponderable and best relegated to those ancient, mute, remote centers of the brain deep in the cerebral cortex, where dreams of flying dinosaurs still slumber.

But the minimal works -- stark arrangements of black-and-white squares and rectangles -- are indeed digital and Taoistic. Just looking at them generates an urge to ask the kinds of questions that elicit infuriatingly ambiguous or oblique answers -- or perhaps just refer us to a help file. Alas, there are no help files here. Digital Taoism, the title piece, is emblematic. A series of black-and-white horizontal rectangles with sequences of 0's and 1's inscribed like computer codes, their grid-like patterns also recall the hexagrams of the I Ching, an earlier if no less mind-bending digital code. Is it informing us that good fortune is indicated by wild geese and a fair lady on a sea shore? Or that a fatal error occurred in a system module so we must now shut down the computer? Hard to tell, but it may not even matter. Taoism and digital stuff are based on notions of fluidity, but these things are cast in steel, hence they are icons, meditation objects from the numerical Unknown, that cosmic roulette wheel we keep trying to outwit, or barring that, to propitiate and pacify.

No less mind-bending is the work of Adriana Farmiga, though it must be noted that her work is bent quite differently from Tully's, despite minimal and conceptual tendencies. Here the magic word is surrealism, for Farmiga harks to that vast terra incognita of the found object and the ready-made, not to mention things that merely look ready-made but turn out to be inscrutably concocted from scratch.

Shoe Horn is actually an ordinary shoe horn with a pair of little high heel doll's shoes affixed right about where they'd be on a child's tongue outstretched to reveal gummy bears. With the narrow end screwed into the wall, Shoe Horn is a ready-made metal tongue outstretched to reveal Barbie shoes, a Duchampian ingenue gesture. No less Duchampian is Cow, a culvert lined with cowhide inside, a kind of Home Depot reprise of Merritt Oppenheimer's famous fur-lined tea cup.

But Farmiga's impressive way with metal is evidenced in works like Hammer, which looks like an ordinary claw hammer until you notice that the claws are actually cast replicas of human fingers. And then there's the curious music stand in the shape of a violin that turns out to be a display case filled with long blond tresses. It's unusually wiggy stuff in which Farmiga blurs the boundaries between Duchampian conceptualism and Magritte's surreal illusionism. Even so, a piece dated 2000, Untitled -- a roll of paper in a paper towel holder -- offers the last word on the state of the world today, as we note that the would-be paper towels are actually maps of nations from an atlas, disposable ephemera of the fates.

click to enlarge Adriana Farming's mind-bending surrealism can be found in such Duchampian inspirations as Cow, a culvert lined with cowhide inside.
  • Adriana Farming's mind-bending surrealism can be found in such Duchampian inspirations as Cow, a culvert lined with cowhide inside.


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