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Friday, May 10, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

In words that chill, in a haunted stare — the impact of Sept. 11

Seattle Times art critic

"First War of the New Millennium"


A group exhibition, noon-5 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, through May 26, SOIL Art Gallery, 1317 E. Pine St., Seattle; 206-264-8061 or www.soilart.org.

Now you see it, now you don't. That's part of the continuing saga of the SOIL gallery, the innovative artist cooperative now entering its fourth incarnation at a jazzy new storefront location on Capitol Hill.

The opening show, "First War of the New Millennium," takes a look at the way America has rallied its psyche and its sales force since Sept. 11. Political mumbo-jumbo and scads of patriotic kitsch fuel some of the work, so the show ends up an odd mix of angst and humor — probably an accurate reflection of how many of us cope in times of crisis. The result isn't the most cohesive show that SOIL has produced, but it has powerful moments.

Among the artists are many well-known names in the alternative scene, including former Fuzzy Engine artists Leslie Clague, Steve Veatch and Blair Wilson.

Spotlighting the juvenile quality of some of the messages we hear from our leaders, Cathy McClure transcribes quotes in a childish hand on lined pulp paper, the kind that grade-schoolers practice on. "Today we are not so sure who they are, but we know they're there" is an example she chose of a George W. Bush-style reassurance. Each notebook page is posted on the wall along a stairway. Though the concept may sound simplistic, the words she chose — lifted from the comforting fluff surrounding them as they were spoken — are chilling. One of the penmanship practice-sheets reads, "They're quiet. They just don't want to eat."

Several pieces have ideas at their core and take a moment or two of thought to figure out. Such is Paul Davies' "Epilogue," a sleek white-epoxied numbering machine into which you are asked to poke a finger while pressing a button. Believe me, it's not a comforting thing to do. When your finger emerges (as it will, I assure you), it bears a reminder of the heightened security practices sliding into place daily around the country.

But two images hit fast and hard. Jack Daws' "Pickled Flag" takes literally the national cry to preserve our country and heritage. And Paul Metivier's "Souvenir: September 11, 2001," a charred, shattered, hairless clay form of a human head, is mounted on the wall like a hunting trophy. The searing eyes of that human target still stare out at something incomprehensible.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com.

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