Easily the weirdest show I've seen in sometime, “Forever Vegetal” pushes the limits of taste, and not necessarily tastefully so. The two-person exhibition of Edra Soto and Brian McNearney at Roots and Culture places two post-disciplinary artists in close proximity, ultimately highlighting their differences.
Edra Soto's contribution is a wandering examination of her Hispanic heritage filtered through objects and images of Catholicism. The wide range of media and symbols doesn't always mesh convincingly, but a mystical undercurrent is present in each piece. The most engaging of which is Communion, a pair of statues of the Virgin Mary whose heads are linked by an undulating pink swath of plaster. One statue holds up the other as they share their globular transcendental thoughts.
The collection of Ms. Soto's gouache paintings on paper also link the mystical to the everyday but in a way that appears more tongue-in-cheek than contemplative. Take for instance the close-up of Ms. Soto's pet dog, in The Jesus Of Dogs (seen at right, above). Floating deep within his wet eyes and poised right above his furry snout and wagging tongue are a magical robed Jesus, and a hand raised in blessing. Other works by Ms. Soto fail in their material to elicit a compelling experience, like Forever, a pile of dirt covered stuffed animals ringing a lit square or This Is The Darkest Hour a dark panther mask with store bought flower petals flowing from it's eyes, to a hardcore soundtrack.
This material failure is echoed in Brian McNearney's wandering exploration of bog people. The Bog People, (I later learned via a cursory online search but would rather have had the information presented to me at the exhibition) are remains of people from the Iron Age, preserved by the acidic peat bogs of Northern Europe. Mr. McNearney is fairly up front about his reference with Glob a large vinyl print of the cover of P. V. Glob's book The Bog People. The print is then covered with a few token slathers of oil paint. Nearby a conservatively sized canvas pictures the texture of the bog itself in Bog. The painted surface lacks the complexity to be interesting on it's own and the lack of supplementary information renders it completely opaque conceptually.
Similarly strange and opaque are the remaining two sculptures, Nature Boy's Enclosure and Plant Chute. For Nature Boy's Enclosure Mr. McNearney placed a painted mannequin head atop a wooden tripod, which was presumably the titular Nature Boy. Nature Boy “lives” inside of a dressing screen, lined with digital prints of his own face. When viewed next to the bog people, it's impossible not to consider Nature Boy’s leathery green face in terms of the bog peoples’, but this realization doesn't lead to any subsequent realizations. As a gesture, presenting a mannequin head as art in 2009 is gutsy maneuver in itself, but as unclear as the rest.
“Forever Vegetal “was too low on production value to be arrested by the material quality of the work and too thin on information to become enveloped in thought about any particular work, especially Mr. McNearney's contribution. While Ms. Soto largely evades this criticism due to a persistent unnamable connection between the works, she does fail to present a compelling object at times.
(Images courtesy of the artists and Roots & Culture)