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Review: the psychic depth of Catharsis 

The photography exhibition runs through Jan. 13 at Grand Maltese Gallery

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Although they are different things, psychology and photography both were born in mid-19th century Europe. Photography evolved from a mechanical recording technique to an art where the real and the fantastical share the stage, while psychology deals in both statistical analyses and human potentialities. This surreal Catharsis expo at The Grand Maltese Gallery, curated by artist Brittany Markert, is small in scale but conveys uncanny psychic depth in the work of three female artists whose work seems very appropriate at the start of Carnival — a tradition we thought was a local quirk, but which really functions as a vast civic re-enactment of psychiatrist Carl Jung's notions of the unconscious and Jacob Moreno's psychodrama theories of role-playing as a way of working through fears while unlocking the creative potential of dreams.

  Fears can be crippling, as illustrated by the late Lauren E. Simonutti, who transformed the isolation of mental illness into eerily unsettling images that suggest what writer Franz Kafka might have done had he been a female hipster who heard voices, saw visions and remade them into hauntingly beautiful photographs. Cornelia Hediger is a photo-collage artist whose images are so convincing that viewers have to look twice to see that the two women smoking and drinking a cup of tea at a table beneath a baroque crucifixion painting really are the same person. Ornate plates holding severed pig limbs insinuate the incipient savagery that lies just below the veneer of civilization. Markert's fantastical dream scenes are pure psychodrama in the surreal tradition of Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Clarence John Laughlin, Duane Michals and others who used photography as a portal to the psyche and brought back images of what they found. Markert's carnivalesque photographs of people in psychodramatic encounters with other people — or even dolls, as we see in Toy Box (pictured) — are visual Zen riddles that scramble our preconceived expectations, so what we see, and how we see it, becomes a mirror for our own processes of perception. Through Jan. 13. Catharsis: Photographs by Lauren Simonutti, Cornelia Hediger and Brittany Markert. The Grand Maltese Gallery, 3040 St. Claude Ave., (504) 330-1051; www.grandmaltese.com.

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