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Friday, November 5, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

"Quiet Revolution": Reflections of instinct and drive

Seattle Times art critic

Visual arts review


"Quiet Revolution," with work by Jarod Charzewski, Colleen Ludwig, Kat Tomka, Jack Ryan, Mandy Greer, Paul Margolis. 4-8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 1-8 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, through Nov. 21, Consolidated Works, 500 Boren Ave. N., Seattle; $5 suggested donation, free for members (206-381-3218 or www.conworks.org).

You've gotta hand it to the six artists in ConWorks show "Quiet Revolution." They're obsessed with their work. All five segments of the exhibit — one is a joint project by two artists — are labor intensive. All reflect on the theme of "Instinct" that guides ConWorks' fall theater, music, film and visual-art lineup, a celebration of the alternative arts organization's fifth anniversary.

According to a statement by Dylan Neuwirth, who organized the show, "instinct is the singular guiding force in the creation of art," allowing the artist to respond "without logic."

I only half agree. Very few artists succeed on instinct alone. It takes discipline, skill and conscious intervention to shape the creative urge into something more than self-indulgence. "Quiet Revolution" is heavy on urge and process but, as a whole, falls short on communication.

Neuwith gave each artist plenty of space in which to act-out. The cavernous 3,880-square-foot converted warehouse allotted a 35-by-21-by-12-foot niche to Alaska artist Kat Tomka for her installation "breakup." The multiple components of the piece wrap a corner of the walls, hang suspended from the ceiling and dot the floor. Most of it is made of plastic: hundreds of baggies filled with water and tacked to the wall, miles of tape in overlapping strips, sheets of bubble wrap. A lot of it is marked and mottled with graphite, like grimy city windows. Video projections throw a sparkle of motion and light into the mix. Putting it all together took a mind-boggling amount of work.

Art lives on several levels, each growing from the one before. The first absorbs and nurtures the maker but has little impact on others. The next connects with viewers living in a certain place and era, but loses meaning over time. The next level includes work that has a deep, lasting effect that outlives its maker and may not be immediately recognized. Think Sappho, Leonardo, van Gogh, Shakespeare.

From Tomka's written statement and the intricacy of the imagery, you can tell the piece is, for her, freighted with meaning. Yet even a sympathetic viewer can get stumped trying to access it from the jumble of visuals. The work's metaphors lie heavy in the intention of the piece (which lives in the artist's head) but they don't get translated visually so that we can connect, too.

Mandy Greer's two pink-tinged installations have more formal appeal and, in the case of "Petunia" — a sweet-faced papier-mâché beast encrusted with sparkles and blossoms — a little zinger of poetry to boot. "Petunia" stands at the vortex of a spray of glittery flowers that trails after her up the wall like the tail of a comet. It's as though a visual fragrance wafts behind the little animal, attracted by such sweetness. In "Petunia," Greer aimed for levity rather than depth and accomplished it nicely. Her installation "Hot Pink Moon," on the other hand, is a pretty but otherwise inexplicable monochrome love song of stuff, shaped like an oversized wedding cake and echoed by a pink orb painted on the wall of the darkened south gallery.

Jarod Charzewski and Collen Ludwig made it clear that the voluminous two-part installation they worked on was not a collaboration. They each did their own thing and then put them together — a concept that worked for creative partners Merce Cunningham and John Cage but isn't as convincing here. Ludwig's "Axon" is a flutter of chiffon and electrical paraphernalia that forms the feminine part of the installation, which is suspended from the ceiling of the main gallery. Charzewski's "Silo" is a huge blue prophylactic of a thing, part tunnel, part funnel, jutting through the air above. It all forms an energetic display that probably isn't as satisfying to ponder as it was to make.

The quietest part of the show is Jack Dingo Ryan's one-liner installation called "The Sneak," a swarm of little cast polyethylene ears presumably all abuzz with the latest gossip. And the funniest is Paul Margolis' warm and fuzzy set of "No Parking" signs, quilted fabric sculptures that mimic the style of official city signs — with the thoughtful adjoinder "Please."

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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