1.4 / Review

Jigsawmentallama

By Brian Andrews December 2, 2009

Stepping off the street into “Jigsawmentallama,” an exhilarating exhibition at David Cunningham Projects, induces a liminal state of viewership.  Often in that instant, we shift from pedestrian to audience, adopting new identities ranging from consumer to critic to friend, which influence how we understand the artwork on display. “Jigsawmentallama,” however, resists the assumption of predetermined roles, requiring active visual engagement to find meaning in the psychedelic assortment of paintings, digital prints, and video. Here, our perspectives are not the of passive flâneurs; rather they are participatory, resembling that of dreamers, hallucinators, or lost travelers.

The exhibition is a densely tangled curatorial effort, typical of the gallery’s refreshingly international, media-savvy shows. What unites the diverse artworks is an aggressive visual excess that is geared toward destabilizing the spectator’s point of view. Pieces such as Scott Hewicker’s out-of-body painting Dream Tunnel (2007) and Grant Worth’s fractured video Kaleidoscope #3—Temple, Cage of an Exploding Heart (2008) excel at this feat.

Scott Hewicker. Dream Tunnel, 2007; acrylic on canvas, 17 x 21 in. Courtesy of David Cunningham Projects, San Francisco.

A familiar pulse of synth-pop lured me behind a curtain into an unexpectedly dark chamber in the back room of the gallery. I crept through the void to investigate a small rectangle of light several meters away and discovered a recessed miniature room at eye level. A projection of a lithe woman, swaying to the hypnotic drone of “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus, floated inside a model of a cluttered domestic space. An unsettling nostalgia settled over me as I peered forward to inspect the tight details of the maquette. The dancer was ghastly, yet compelling, hovering immaculately in the miniature space. In a rush it all came together: The listless dance with her legs held close together, swaying to this music, was a reenactment of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs (1990) in which the killer is dancing in clothes made of his victims’ flesh.

FLASH! A single strobe popped, temporarily erasing the dancer in a blinding aura. She returned, still dancing but more ethereal. The residual light was violent, confusing. I exited the chamber with befuddled senses, an afterimage of the figure’s silhouette burned into my vision. The effect lingered for several minutes against the white walls of the gallery.

This haunting installation—Sonja Nilsson’s Silence of the Lambs (2008)—formally mimics Paul Pfeiffer’s Poltergeist (2000). Both consist of scaled-down horror film sets recessed into gallery walls. Nilsson shares Pfeiffer’s predilection for small video projections, but while Pfeiffer’s work comes off as detached and analytic, Nilsson’s embraces the viewer’s experience, implicating them as voyeurs and marking their vision with her ghostly silhouette.

Sonja Nilsson. Silence of the Lambs, 2008; mixed media installation, ed. 4, dimensions variable. Courtesy of David Cunningham Projects, San Francisco.

The ocular overload climaxed in the main gallery with Skye Thorstenson’s Super Saturday Morning (2006), a saturated video of overlapping pop cultural food items and patterns of luminous color. To view the piece, the viewer must slip into the confined corner of the gallery to face the monitor privately. The monitor was rotated on its plinth, facing the corner, casting a saccharine glow over the architecture. The sequence is cut in an accelerating pulsing flicker, similar to a hyper-kinetic Japanese cartoon that can induce epileptic seizures. The effect was at once hypnotic, therapeutic, and nauseating.

“Jigsawmentallama” revels in this perceptual dissonance, shifting the ground beneath the viewer’s feet with no refuge in sight.

JIGSAWMENTALLAMA is on view at David Cunningham Projects, in San Francisco, through December 20, 2009.

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