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Friday, June 22, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

Hothouses of imagination at SOIL

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibition reviews


"Crud," mixed-media work by Nola Avienne, Claire Putney, Timea Tihanyi, Ellen Ziegler and Susan Zoccola, noon-5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, through July 1, SOIL Gallery, 112 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-264-8061 or http://soilart.org).

New work by Claude Zervas, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; Tuesdays by appointment, through July 7, James Harris Gallery, 309A Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-903-6220 or www.jamesharrisgallery.com).

"Crud," an enthralling exhibition of mixed-media work by five local artists, seems like it grew organically out of its current venue, SOIL, the cooperative art gallery in Pioneer Square. The names of the show and of the gallery suggest these connections — the artworks in "Crud" suggest dirty, lowly, by-products or processes, and "SOIL," of course, could mean rich, productive earth, or the act of besmirching.

The exhibition, however, is simply camping on SOIL's turf, having been guest-curated by Ellen Ziegler, a former SOIL member. Ziegler, who is also one of the artists in the show, organized "Crud" as a project for In Lieu Exhibit Space, an organization that "curates, promotes and disseminates" work by its members. This collaboration between the organizations has been fruitful — the show provides many gripping, amusing and uncomfortable moments.

Walking into the show is like entering a fantastic, forgotten greenhouse. The works — by Ziegler, Nola Avienne, Claire Putney, Timea Tihanyi and Susan Zoccola — evoke associations with growth and decay, and hint at life cycles and organic forms that have slowly transmogrified into states that are somewhat familiar, but mysterious and even disturbing.

An untitled wall sculpture by Zoccola cleverly sets the tone. Zoccola has created a beeswax-covered, three-tiered cake that is tilted sideways and attached to the wall. Reaching out toward you, sprouting out of the cake, are ominous shoots or tendrils that end in gooey pods (actually, beeswax-covered walnuts). The decrepit, broken-hearted Miss Havisham, from Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations," comes to mind with this neglected wedding cake that is left to create an abnormal afterlife out of its romantic, tragic past.

Avienne's sculpture "small conversation" is made up of two chocolate-brown, conical wavelike forms that seem drawn to each other — their tips bend and reach toward one another and gently, but just barely, meet. The forms are simple and powerful and the work is understandably highlighted in the window of the gallery, but the backlighting from the window detracts from its power. You have to (carefully!) walk around it to experience its amazing texture and delicate weirdness.

Avienne has covered her sculpture with magnets and thousands of tiny iron filings that spiral into clusters of rosettes or anemones. It's a marvelous contradiction between what you know — that the tiny, short threads of iron filings are just clinging to the surface and could be brushed away with a touch of a finger — and what you physically experience — the sculpture looks like it's covered with a richly textured and luxuriously soft fabric. "Do Not Touch" signs are clearly necessary with Avienne's work.

Ziegler's works on paper are not, initially, as visually gripping as the more visceral, sculptural work in the show, but, once you step up close and learn of her artmaking process, you'll be looking in awe at her lacy organic forms. Ziegler creates images that look like tiny sea creatures or blood cells rendered huge under a microscope.

And she creates them with fire. Ziegler deftly combines method, material and subject matter into an organic whole, creating a range of effects from smoky blurs of slightly scorched paper to tiny burn holes no larger than pinpricks.

New work by Claude Zervas

Down Third Avenue South from SOIL, in the back of James Harris' gallery, Claude Zervas' work explores similar themes. Though at first his electronic works seem to have little to do with nature, on reflection, it's clear Zervas is interested in the fleeting and ambiguous interactions of people with the organic world.

"Nudibranch" looks simple enough — a vertical line of LED lights cast small circles of white light onto the wall. But the timing and movement mechanisms make these little circles of light gently bob and flicker in a lovely, unpredictable visual rhythm. It's like seeing artificially-generated fireflies hovering indoors — the beauty of the light and movement is underscored by the deliberate presence of wires and electronics.

The scientific-sounding title of "Diatomoton 3" also alludes to the technical aspects of Zervas' work, while the ghostly image, created by LEDs under-white vellum, conjures up vague impressions of sea life or cellular or even facial imagery.

The lights projected through the totally flat vellum create the illusion of a three-dimensional oval inside of which several circular white lights jiggle and float. Similar to a Rorschach inkblot test (a method of psychological evaluation used by psychologists to examine the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of their patients), this image gently shifts to remind you of something that is familiar deep down, but that changes from moment to moment, always elusive and not quite knowable.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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