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Post from Minna Dubin

The “Scarab” show at The Project Room on 8th and Girard opened last Saturday night. All I knew was it had to do with heavy metal music, of which I am completely ignorant. So I walked in, trying to forget all of the heavy metal stereotypes I’ve learned over time. Turns out I didn’t need to try and forget them, because the artists were busy examining them in their work.

Of the 10 artists and 17 pieces featured at the show, my favorite was an installation by A. Ho called “Satan, sitting there, he’s smiling.” Well-placed in one corner of the room, under the irritating glow of a strategically-placed fluorescent light sat a wooden school desk with an attached chair that you’re allowed to sit in.

The desk had graphite pencil drawings of demons and words scribbled all over it. One drawing was of a hand making the metal “monster/metallica” sign with the words “Metal up your ass” written underneath. My favorite saying on the desk was, “I’ll be the first to watch your funeral, I’ll be the last to leave.” Hardcore metal music played in the background.

I liked Ho’s installation because I could access it without being a “metal-head.” Even though I can’t name a song the band Slayer sings, the feeling of that school scene transcended. I knew kids in high school who had desks and notebooks that looked like that. With the installation’s offensive fluorescent glow, it seemed obvious why an angsty high-schooler would connect with the pissed-aura that surrounds metal.

Thom Lessner’s cartoon-like paintings of white metal dudes (Twisted Sister, James Dio, and Cliff Burton) were hysterical. I thought they invoked the humorous spirit of the TV show “King of the Hill,” about a white trash Texan family.

I also liked, and like more and more as time goes on and I think back to it, Paul Swenbeck’s “My Only Son, A Demon.” This was a black, shiny, lagoon-like creature coming out of a puddle of, well, the “lagoon,” or wherever it comes from. Made from polychromed resin, and looking like plastic, leather, and oil, this wormy, creepy being perfectly captured one interpretation of what I could imagine to be the birth of heavy metal.

The rest of the pieces may have meant more to those with a background or interest in heavy metal. But on a whole, the show surprised me with clever commentary and the general feeling of poking fun at oneself.

–Minna Dubin is a free-lance writer and teacher as well as an astute observer of art

(Editor’s note from Libby: Oh, I almost forgot to mention she’s my daughter.)

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