Saturday, March 30, 2013

stuffed animal body snatchers

Today I went downtown to the Denver Art Museum's Material World exhibit. The exhibit is part of a whole series called Spun, which uses both pieces from the museum's permanent collection as well as loaned works.

The series, from what I understand from a recent New York Times article I read about the whole thing, is an attempt to get people more interested in the museum's permanent collection, not just the special exhibits. The theme of all the Spun exhibits is the use of textiles.

But the exhibits of Material World don't seem, to me, to be completely focused textiles. For instance, one of the pieces is just an arrangement of colorful erasers, while another is an arrangement of things like colorful rolls of tape and cans and balls, all arranged on a small pedestal to look like a city. And one very large work, which seems to be a gigantic tree trunk, with roots, chopped into pieces to look like some three-dimensional, comic-book-like version of a big city, all splayed out atop scattered papers, which also have fixed to them squares and slots of wood that look like miniature versions of big cities.

Nevertheless, the theme of weaving and textiles resonates throughout the exhibit. The most interesting use of textile work is in two knit works by an artist named Oliver Herring. These works use mylar ribbons, knitted together in some kind of double pattern or crossed-over pattern.

One of the works, made out of transparent mylar, is a thick rectangle with a hole in the center, inside of which is a replica of a coat, also made out of transparent mylar. The other work, which I liked a lot, is knitted out of silver mylar. It shows a double image of a man getting out of a rocking chair. The man is double, and the rocking chair is double, to illustrate, I guess, the duplicity of motion in a frozen moment.

Another work which made interesting use of string is called "Initiator," by an artist named Lin Tianmiao. This work has a female mannequin, the white paint covering her grey body chipping away, facing a knee-high frog. The frog is pulling the woman's hair -- made out of strands of white silk and as long as a bridal train -- into his mouth. This all takes place before a curved, pink wall.

I think this piece is a very interesting combination of fairy tales: the story of the frog prince and, of course, Rapunzel. But the white hair also reminds me of the white-haired demons and witches in Asian legends -- or, at least, I should say, in Japanese anime and Chinese and Japanese horror movies. But it's a strange spin on it all. After all, the frog is pulling the woman's hair out. As he does, the woman's body is chipping away, the white paint revealing the grey material underneath. The transformation about to occur doesn't seem like a happy ending.

Another collection of works I liked in the exhibit was by an artist named Lucas Samaras. One of the works is very textile-based: it's kind of a crazy-quilt, with bars of different colored textiles spanning across the work to create a star pattern or fragmented mandala.

Another work by Samaras is some sort of small chest, painted black with white spots, and then encrusted on the inside with small colorful beads and on the outside with pebble-sized, colorful, plastic "jewels." On the top half of the interior are three heads, which I suppose are portraits of Samaras. The bottom half of the interior is lined with pencils, which have a kind of psychedelic pattern printed on them. Before that is a miniature stage, heaped up with a hefty, scattered pile of pins, atop which stands a lacquered praying mantis, being ridden by a miniature Greek bust of a woman.

Also by Samaras is a standing work that looks like a mobile, or maybe even a mobile within a mobile. The framing of the mobile is mostly made out of metal netting and -- I think! -- twisted clothes hangers. But there are also some copper wires and painted-over, metallic kitchen tools. A couple of the legs of the figure are, I think, made out of a knife and a fork. And hanging through the figure are broken pieces of colorful wine glasses. A mannequin's face is masked by some of the metal mesh on one side of the figure.

Near the work by Samaras is an interesting work by Agustina Woodgate. This work is a large quilt, of sorts, made out of the "hides" of stuffed animals. The works is very colorful and bright. But there is a strange sense of morbidity about it, seeing that it is made out of the hides of toys that, one would assume, children have once loved. The name of this work is, appropriately enough, "No Rain, No Rainbow."

Another set of works I liked was by Annette Messager. Three of her works were along one wall. Two works were clusters of small, framed pieces hung from the wall by long strings of twine fixed to ragged nails. One of the works was something like a globe made out of small, black and white photos framed in thin, black frames. The photos were all of segments of male and female bodies, mostly mouths, nipples, arms, legs, and vaginas. I'm pretty sure I didn't see any penises.

The other strung work was a tiered series of small pieces: the top row having one work, the second row having two works, the third and fourth, three, and the bottom, four. Each work was a small drawing, hung in a black frame, before a framed page of diary-style writing, in colored pencil, of one word, repeated over and over.

The drawings were lovely, like children's drawings. The top object was a set of headphones. In the second row were a drawing of an empty bed (I think); and a drawing of two scantily clad girls bumping their bottoms together while another, naked, girl looks on.

In the third row were a strange animal that looked like a rabbit, except that its ears were like a jester's hat; a little girl nursing a doll that looked like a clown or jester; and a bird flying into the sky, except that its back looked like a naked woman's body.

In the fourth row were something like a group of men floating through the sea in a giant saucepan; a group of acrobats standing atop each other; and a witch's face. And in the bottom row were a naked, demon-winged woman; a stopwatch; a folded-paper boat; and a stone being flung at a stack of cans.

The other work by Messager was also interesting: a charred-black-looking span of paper (?) in the shape of a cobra, with colorful imagery illuminating the hood and chest of the "cobra" like stained glass. The colorful imagery was, in fact, two mouths with tongues sticking out, and a nose.

I wandered around in a couple more floors of the museum, but I won't go into detail on the stuff I saw. Two interesting works by David Schnell, and "Fox Games," which, I think, is a pretty legendary work, at least in Denver.

Also, the special exhibit "Chamber," by Charles Sandison: a huge, empty room with colored words and thin lines projected onto the slanted walls. Words exploding out of invisible sources, spreading and growing like germs or DNA or star systems, and always changing color. Very lovely and quiet.

I then came home and watched the film El Amor Brujo, a Spanish film based on a Flamenco ballet, about an arranged marriage that seems to end in murder, until the ghost of the murdered husband shows up every night to dance with the widowed wife. The widow has a paramour who'd loved her since childhood. The paramour and the widow work together to get the husband's ghost to stop following the widow.

It's all very romantic and sad and very, very colorful. The people all have a garish, 1980s style. But the dancing is superb. I also like a pop song called "Azucar Moreno," which takes place near the beginning of the film.

Last night I also watched the Japanese film Goke, the Body Snatcher from Hell. That was also a wonderful movie. It's about a plane that crashes in a desert portion of island. The survivors end up being attacked by a blob-like alien that lands in a fire-glowing flying saucer. The blob-like alien cracks open people's heads and then glops up into their bodies through their foreheads. The host body then acts as a vampire, sucking people's blood. The plot is pretty straightforward. But the action is fun, and the bleak atmosphere of everything is pretty powerful.

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