The Challenge: just the ticket

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This morning’s paper had an item about Pfc. Lynndie England pleading guilty–the Abu Ghraib prison guard whose picture, holding a prisoner on a leash, is one of the awful Iraq images that has burned itself into our consciousness and our consciences. England’s image is also one of the repeating images of the horrors of war in painter and print-maker Daniel A. Heyman’s Challenge exhibit now up at Fleisher (see Roberta’s post about the opening reception here). Heyman’s concerns about the state of the world talked directly to his fellow Challenge artist Norm Paris. And the work of Lindsay Feuer, the third artist in this group, stood as a strong contrast–another planet really, except I couldn’t help but think perhaps this work is also about survival (right, Heyman’s “Challenge This,” five from a series of 15 water-based woodblock prints on washi paper).
heyman, daniel
Michael Jordan to the rescue
paris, norm
Paris offers a single grand gesture here in “Michael Jordan, Save the World,” an installation of 23 Michael Jordan sculptures that look about half-size, hanging from the ceiling in various aerial gestures, trying to catch 24 little atomic bombs. His airness in multiples takes up the entire room. The piece is a poignant plea, asking a sports hero and celebrity to be a real hero and save us. It’s a commentary on our culture and a commentary on the state of the world. It’s also a commentary on the nature of fans. The plea–and command–in the show title is touching, a boy’s desire to be rescued–by plastic action figures, basically (left, installation detail).

Paris, who has an MFA from Yale in printmaking and painting and lives in Philadelphia, shows at the ultra-hip Brooklyn gallery, Jack the Pelican Presents. And he has shown locally in “Bling Bling,” a Project Room show that was staged at the Tacony Palmyra Flea Market and at the prestigious Arcadia Works on Paper show in 2003.

Bombarded by images
feuer, lindsay
Heyman, who has a history of making art with homosexual themes, has used this Challenge to focus on the war in Iraq, the destruction and death and our nation’s loss of moral credibility. Clearly, he has a following, judging by the large number of red dots all over the wall (right, detail, “Rice Bowl Boy Goes to War,” 2004, oil and ink on mylar, photograph by James G. Mundie).

Heyman works in layers–a kind of leftover from his experience with Japanese woodblock printing–painting repeating images in oil on mylar and then stacking them until he achieves the level of chaos of intricacy that invites a search and perusal of just what’s there. Embedded in the work are a number of images from the war in Iraq, copied straight out of the newspapers, and repeated over and over within single works and also carried along from one work to another. In the four panels of “Rice Bowl Boy Goes to War” art-historical imagery across eastern and western culture are layered with images from the war. The hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner is here as well as in a series of prints devoted solely to that image.

Heyman, who has shown widely locally and in New York, was a Philadelphia Print Collaborative porfolio artist this year.

Life forms for survival

Lindsay Feuer’s hand-built, unglazed porcelain sculptures of fantasy plants and cells also suggest creatures and reproductive organs and undersea life forms. The work is quite beautiful, and its whiteness suggests a hermetic lack of oxygen which seems to fit the subject matter quite well at the same time that it emphasizes the tactile quality of structures beneath the skin, as do classical marble sculptures.
harris, rain
I was reminded a little too much of Rain Harris’ biomorphic plants (right), but Harris clearly has a decorative intent in her pretty poison bottles and more recent Empire wall moldings and wallpaper.

tokumaru, kyoko
I’m also reminded of the white porcelain profusions of plants by Kyoko Tokumaru (left, Tokumaru’s “Germination #3”), which also have a different subject matter–a suggestion of plants as human stand-ins, overcrowded and competing for what little space is left in the conservatory–growth gone wild.

Nonetheless, maybe because of the context of Paris and Heyman, I found myself thinking about which life forms would survive the disasters we are creating all around us. And who’s to say Feuer’s oversexed biota aren’t just the ticket? Beautiful and successful all at once–female overachievers.

A couple of related events at Fleisher worth noting:

Saturday, May 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., artist/teacher Mary Murphy will lead the Challenge “TalkAbout” gallery discussion. Bring your own ‘brown bag’ lunch and join us to discuss the work on exhibition. Admission is free. These are usually a lot of fun.

Jonathan Weinberg, the author of “Male Desire,” will be doing a lecture and book signing at the Fleisher Art Memorial, May 11, 6:30 p.m. The lecture is in conjunction with Daniel Heyman’s show.

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