The Arts
February 28-March 6, 2007

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Cristina Velazquez's 'Untitled'

Hoop dreams: Cristina Velazquez's 'Untitled' puts pantyhose to new uses at MACLA's 'Domestic Alchemy' show.


Four artists at MACLA rework mundane materials in 'Domestic Alchemy'

By Michael S. Gant

BECAUSE ART should be at least a little dangerous, a warning sign comes with Caleb Duarte's installation Pared (Wall) at MACLA. That pink fluff is real insulation, complete with asbestos—don't inhale too deeply. The large piece consists of framed sections of a wall in progress, with insulation filling the spaces between the studs. The sections sit on concrete piers, forming a semicircle. You enter this space in the same tentative way that kids go playing in half-finished construction projects after the work crews have left. There is a sense of trespassing—of peeking at structural guts meant to be covered up with some kind of concealing facade.

On the other side, a portion of the wall-in-progress is nailed over with drywall panels, one of which is broken away in an irregular curve. Various architectural marks, disconnected images (an airplane, a brush), phrases and hermetic graffiti are drawn on the sheetrock with charcoal and pencil. One painting-size rectangular portion contains a half-finished but technically adept drawing of a man with his arm outstretched; his eyes are closed, perhaps in pain, perhaps in repose. Are these the remnants of an artist's studio being remodeled for gentrification? The scribblings of a prisoner? Pared raises all the questions of history and potentiality that any empty building can evoke.

In his other pieces, Duarte sketches potent small images on chunks of building material that are hung on the walls like found paintings. Sections of protruding two-by-fours or passages of chipped tile give the surfaces a sculptural quality. Duarte's use of simple building materials instead of "high-art" canvas for his surfaces echoes the building cuts of experimental artist Gordon Mata-Clark, who made his name in the '60s and '70s by chopping up houses into art-size pieces and displaying them in galleries.

Nothing else in the new group show "Domestic Alchemy" carries as quite as much charge. The title provides a broad umbrella under which four young Bay Area artists can explore questions of the familiar and the everyday. Like Duarte, SJSU grad Christina Velazquez refashions common materials. What looks at first like a lampshade made of opaque colored glass turns out to be red, yellow, green and blue scouring pads stitched together. Velazquez sews together faded dish towels to form the skirt of a dress—a poignant statement about the labor of "domestics." More abstract is a black panel decorated with wire hoops around which white pantyhose have been stretched and hung from the top edge. The mundane material can be discerned, but from a distance the dangling hoops shimmer lightly like drops of cream suspended in space.

Alejandra Chaverri photographs well-worn, humble objects in large, square pigment prints: an old-fashioned sewing machine; some dominos; a couple of aging baby dolls with the weary expressions of forgotten toys. The attention of the camera gives the weight of nostalgia and longing to these ordinary things, but Chaverri sometimes edges into the obvious—a pair of worn boots is too obvious a metaphor for discarded lives.

Mora Raggio contributes two installations. Jardin de los senderos que se encuentra (The garden of paths that meet) combines a wall full of sheets of notebook paper on which rapidly painted swirls in a rough flower-petal shape frame a small video monitor that plays a loop of close-ups of the pages. It is colorful and vaguely hypnotic but feels like an unfinished idea. Better is trans::transient 07, a stack of suitcases, the top one full of a traveler's folded T-shirts, flip-flops, bagged (for an era of heightened security) toiletries and reading material (including a volume of Borges stories). A video screen nestled in the clothing plays a series of strange, transitory images. The work hovers between a home left behind and a new world of uncertain possibilities, linked only by a few personal possessions.

Domestic Alchemy shows through April 7 at MACLA, 510 S. First St., San Jose. Free. The gallery is open Wednesday-Sunday. (408.998.ARTE)

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