Two new exhibits invigorate apple country
By Gretchen Giles
HAIR AND TEETH and dung and bone. Pull and bull and tongue and donkey. Children's collections and grandmothers' vanities and adult dirty secrets and rusty old bedsprings and a sweet slice of brain, served up by a xylophone. Oh my!
How does childhood appear once one is firmly on the wrong side of the Garden gate, Paradise lost, erotic knowledge found--some of it mourned? In two very different Sebastopol exhibits, East Bay assemblagist and photographer Susan Danis and Petaluma sculptor Poe Dismuke peer in, noses pressed up.
Showing through Nov. 30 at the MeSH Gallery, Danis' "Earthly Delights" exhibit presumes the prissy concerns of a woman's World War II vanity table as seen with the disgustless awe of a child crouched under the ruffle. From that vantage, one could silently witness the indignities of maintaining dignity: false teeth, matted brushes, wigs and extensions, the midget denture of filthy seed pearls. How does the harridan in curlers emerge an hour later better resembling a movie star? Through gunk and yuck and damned hard work.
Turning the homely domesticity of vacuum hose heads into dusty vulvas (Rapunzel's Hair), Danis often builds within a traditional painting's frame, a lurid girly-pink plastic stuff weighing down her unlikely objects. The surface looks satiny and plump, like the cheap sheen of a Valentine chocolate box, yet it is as resinous and thick as the waxy callus of a hardened foot.
The childhood mania for collections, notably seashell collections, is booted upside down in such works as Eraser Head Mandala. Here, whitened shells are fenced back into the frame with yellowing molars, ivorying plastic Tiparillo cigar filters, an oversized house fly, and pencil erasers flattened by foot or tooth or both. The uncanny melody of the color of Danis' objects is as lyrical as their proximity is unsettling.
Painstakingly wrought, Danis' other assemblage pieces showcase careful years of pack-rat wonder. Eggs such as Fabergé never imagined sit on pedestals, obsessively covered in a writhing of Medusa-like metal bungees that connect and snake all over (Spring Egg); keys intact, shackled entirely in useless doorlocks (Locks, Hair, Hooks); or as blind as a hirsute cousin of the Addams Family (Uovo Peloso).
But perhaps it's her photographs that are the most fun, if fun indeed is to be had within this knowingly naïve look at adulthood. Flawlessly composed shots such as Feast place a silky plate of skinned bull testicles in heartbreaking proximity to a woman's naked breasts. Color photos juxtapose internal organs with toddler's instruments, snarls of dime-store yarn, the oily sheen of a tomato seed. The colors draw in, the subjects surprise.
Both compelling and repelling, "Earthly Delights" nonetheless forgives us for being flawed and wasteful and human--for growing old--in a way that childhood's own immortal rigor never does.
Down the street at the Quicksilver Mine Co., Poe Dismuke's "Ad Hoc" collection of sculpture and assemblage shows through Nov. 18. Always allowing a peek into his version of a mad boy's playroom, Dismuke's main offerings here are wall pieces that wink and leer and whirr and move when fiddled. The Mona Lisa herself provides the main pun, whether moustachioed or rolling one wild eye upon a lever-pull. But the masterpiece of "Ad Hoc" is Otis, Dismuke's life-sized bedspring donkey. Never missing the joke, Dismuke has a bicycle honk-horn on Otis' rump, its belly full of smart junk, the overall piece an outstanding example of California funk art. How lucky to be able to stroll into a gift shop in rural Sonoma County and stumble across something usually cordoned off in a museum. Dismuke deserves his due.
"Earthly Delights" continues through Nov. 30 at the MeSH Gallery, 6984 McKinley St., Sebastopol. Hours are Monday-Tuesday and Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 707/823-1971.
"Ad Hoc" exhibits through Nov. 18 at the Quicksilver Mine Co., 154 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Hours are daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 707/829-2416.
From the October 25-31, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.