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Mixed mediums

‘Jackals and Jerks,’ ‘Domain Error,’ and ‘Protest’
By GREG COOK  |  June 24, 2008
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THEN AND NOW: A new selection from LeRoy Henderson’s “Protest.”

A current running under “Jackals and Jerks,” a group show at Stairwell Gallery (504 Broadway, Providence, through July 13), is the thrills and worries of today’s technological, synthetic, bioengineered SimCity world. It’s one of the central themes underlying art these days. Some artists reflect it by using technology in their work or imitating its manufactured look, its seeming perfection and control. In “Jackals and Jerks,” you see signs of an equal and opposite movement that has sprung up. You might call it the Stitch ’n’ Bitch, Etsy crafty movement because its artists produce obviously hand-made works, often tapping into traditional crafts, that assert our humanity through our idiosyncrasies, imperfections, and strange dreams.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is Providence artist Jung Hong’s installation, Box, which resembles a mutant photo booth decorated with a pattern of green-and-black stripes and diamonds. It’s a sort of machine, but powered by old magic. Crawl inside a low arch on the front and you find an array of colored lights, a weird chain mail head, and a wall of bird legs, skulls, and doll heads in glass-fronted niches. A sign invites you to put 50 cents in a slot. If the machine’s operator is present (i.e., hiding inside a compartment in the back), a chain mail hand may emerge from a pair of small doors holding fried ice cream.

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A MACHINE POWERED BY OLD MAGIC?:
Jung Hong’s Box.
Hong also offers a pair of her typically sharp, brooding, visionary painting-collages that feel like surreal versions of traditional Asian screen paintings. In one, gulls and televisions appear to stand on a gold shore before a silvery black sea or clouds. In the other, a black crow perches on clouds in what appears to be a cave, with ladies’ legs pointing up from water.

Jo Dery of Providence has erected a red, black, and white tent, screenprinted with a pine needle pattern, in which she offers tarot readings on Thursdays from 2 to 4 pm. Around it and inside are wicked charming cartoony screenprints, drawings, and embroidered sashes depicting stylized evergreen trees, rams, mating crickets, a blue hand reaching down from the sky, snakes, and bearded men. They feel like glimpses of old folktales — maybe from some clan of nomadic reindeer herders.

Jessica Ciocci of Providence and A. Jeffrey Wright of Philadelphia imitate digital imagery in hand-drawn and painted vibrating pixely rainbow-colored patterned abstractions. Wright also shows a crude, adolescent sketch of a rainbow puddle on a Maxi Pad with a scrawled punchline: “And on that day Rainbow Brite became a woman.” I can’t quite decide if it’s so awful that it’s great, or if it’s just awful.

Providence’s Ben Fino-Radin is presenting “Domain Error” at AS220’s Project Space (115 Empire Street, Providence, through June 29). He also merges computer motifs with handcraft, including a sculpture depicting an old Mac rendered in needlepoint on “plastic canvas” (a plastic mesh). It looks like a computer cozy. Nearby stands a pair of creepy figures. One wears a white hood and cape with needlepoint peace sign necklaces. It emits disconcerting mumbly buzzing whispers, reminiscent of Jawa talk in Star Wars. The other person wears a knit poncho and kerchief with a computer desktop hourglass necklace and a cardboard box audio speaker on its back. They feel like members from a contemporary techno tribe.

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