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California Biennial, 2006

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Untitled, Parking Lot (Landing Strip) by Chris        Ballantyne
Christopher Ballantyne

Untitled (Labyrinth) by Chris        Ballantyne
Christopher Ballantyne

Wasabi Sunrise (detail) by Jane        Callister
Jane Callister

The Arrangement of Salts and Metals by Property by Leslie        Shows
Leslie Shows

Paisaje 01-04 by Sergio        de la Torre
Sergio de la Torre

Untitled by Arturo       Romo
Arturo Romo

Untitled by Arturo       Romo
Orange County Museum of Art,
Oct 01, 2006 - Dec 31, 2006
Newport Beach, Ca, USA

California Biennial, 2006
by Jennifer Wulffson

Other standout talents in the exhibition include three painters, Christopher Ballantyne, Jane Callister, and Leslie Shows, whose featured works are unpopulated (or depopulated) landscapes. A wall painting wrapping around two corners depicts diminutive bonfires on a beach and the requisite revelers; the smoke gathers into a large cloud and blows to the right, towards the installation of his five relatively small panels. In paintings such as Untitled, Labyrinth (2005), and Untitled, Additions (2004), Ballantyne examines the psychology of empty yet constricted spaces, particularly those constructed by people, as well as the psychology of perspective.

Callister’s paintings feature preternatural, potentially toxic colors, primarily fuchsia and a sickly, acidic green. With the sense of a horizon line and organic form (and titles such as Wasabi Sunset), they read as landscapes or beachscapes. But is this the landscape of the planet Earth--perhaps in the future--or a different planet entirely? The push and pull of Callister’s imagery is largely due to her adeptness with acrylic: tentacle-like rivulets of stark paint seem to grow upwards towards an invisible sun, while elsewhere different colors are swirled and modulated like a technicolor oil spill.

The landscape paintings/collages by Shows succeed in capturing the coloration/discoloration, beauty/scarring, and stability/ instability of the modern western landscape. The combination of grids and swirls in The Arrangement of Salts and Metals by Property (2005), is a perfect description of a ravaged, barely surviving landscape: a turbulent sky changes from black to gray to white to muddy purple and presides over rainbow mountains and an insidious black form in the center of the composition, the terminus of an enlarged track-like structure. Shows, who grew up in a mining town in Alaska, makes effective use of paint and materials, deploying a subtle but impactful palette and papers evocative of science and labor such as grid and sand papers. An angrier, more fractured sky looms in Brine Pipes (2005), over a scene reminiscent of the construction of a sprawling housing development’s infrastructure with its cutout pictures of piping and hatched, cut grid paper. This tidy toothiness speaks to the gobbling up of the natural landscape that is an unfortunate occurrence with such projects.

Sergio De La Torre’s Paisajes series (2000-2005) of stark black and white images of large foreign-owned factories near Tijuana likewise takes up the subject of the scarification of a vulnerable landscape, but with more specific political meaning. What makes these photographs more effective from a critical standpoint is that they use Western aesthetic modes of composition (think of Edward Weston’s photographs of clouds and dunes or Walker Evans’ photographs of bridges and skyscrapers) to activate their conflicted message of beauty and ruin. The related project Maquilapolis (2005), done in collaboration with documentary filmmaker Vicky Funari and the advocate group Grupo X, takes as its subject the makeshift villages of laborers surrounding these factories. There is irony in this project as well, in that the images are reliant on the type of portable and affordable video camera made in some of the factories. Although more explicit and overtly political, Maquilapolis is ultimately much less arresting; it works in the company of Paisajes but might not hold its own alone as the latter could.

The anger to be found in aspects of Arturo Ernesto Romo’s installation Floating Building Calls for a Union of Blood and Stucco:Notes Taken on Site Suggest: Shiver, Shake, Drop and Disappear (2006) also takes as its target parasitic architecture, specifically housing, that is insensitive to the natural landscape. In a take-away poster for the faux Botanica Poder del Mestizo ('ephemera’ from one of Romo’s many alter egos), ridiculous yet earnest promotion of the magic of the natural world, particularly its healing capabilities, lapses into aggressive language: "Take for example the fact that your house dissolved and incinerated 30 forms of life in its construction or that your museum is in fact the left arm of the body whose right arm engages in heartless slaughter of all manner of living things."(3) This is the voice of someone with a valid point, but who loses it in a fantasy of retribution and recrimination, the type of voice related to what is perhaps everyone’s worst political (or personal) nightmare, whatever the debate. While Romo stresses the benevolence of his "fake" posters, they can potentially engender a mixture of awe, confusion, and even anger.(4) After all, one cannot negotiate or debate with a green paper flyer. But if one is tenacious enough in one’s desire to understand his project as more than an absurd, nihilistic exercise, there are rewards. This is in contrast to other mixed-media installations by other artists in the exhibition, which proved impenetrable in their overly personal language and haphazard aesthetic.

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