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A delightful show of team spirit at SOIL, Catherine Person galleries
Special to The Seattle Times
Collaborative art is back in style again with younger artists, as two galleries this month demonstrate. Ceramic sculptor Yuki Nakamura and Craig Miller have co-curated "Hardline Organics," a selection of eight sculptures made with four other artists at the SOIL cooperative of member artists. Vaughn Bell and Ron Lambert show their sculptures in the same gallery, while Lambert has his Seattle solo debut at Catherine Person Gallery. He and Bell also collaborated on a video sculpture at SOIL.
When you think about it, much more art is collaborative than we realize. Chihuly's glassblower teams, British artists Gilbert & George and, in Seattle, Buster Simpson and Toots Zynsky, Sheila Klein and Ries Niemi and others in the 1980s and 1990s, all applied a team approach to making art.
Why do they do it? Because it must get lonely in a studio working all alone and, in a few cases, it becomes a social or political statement.
As the SOIL shows suggest, the results can be surprising and delightful. Nakamura's group builds on the Surrealist conceit of the "Exquisite Corpse" game, wherein artists add to a section of a drawing that others already have made their marks on without seeing the first artists' contributions. At SOIL, they all saw what each other did, but each added his or her own riff.
"Hardline Organics — Part 1" and "Psychogeographies (Vaughn Bell and Ron Lambert)," noon-5 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, to Jan. 29, SOIL Gallery, 112 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-264-8061 or www.soilart.org).
"Ron Lambert," 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, to Jan. 28, Catherine Person Gallery, 319 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-763-5565 or www.catherinepersongallery.com).
The sculptures use everything from glued, wall-mounted wood scraps and iridescent plastic tape and threads to birch bark, white porcelain balls and burlap. Truly more than the sums of their parts, Jenny Heishman, Etsuko Ichikawa, Mark Johnson, Saya Moriyasu, Miller and Nakamura are on to something here, but it's hard to tell exactly what.
A few of the untitled assemblages are figurative, like the one with pink-paper "hair" and the two sexually suggestive, suspended porcelain spheres. Other examples appear to climb the walls of the gallery's tiny back room. All retain a welcome, refreshingly unfinished look that typifies much of the art each month at SOIL.
Lambert and Bell's bulky, white-plastic video installation, "Find My Place" (2005), is a hilarious takeoff on real-estate agent gimmicks. Viewer-participants press buttons to answer silly questions on the three monitors, releasing endless images of neighborhoods, price breakdowns and other moronic statistics. Their individual sculptures seem more compelling than their lone team effort.
Bell's work is remarkably cohesive. "Nine Portable Personal Landscapes" (2005) is a big watercolor depicting nine landscape fragments on wheels: crag, desert, foothill, ocean, peak, etc. Nearby she has executed three of them, "Crag, Desert, Lawn" (2005), in an ingenious manner. Tricked out on trays filled with plants and dirt on dolly wheels, the "portable landscapes" are the perfect choice for nomadic art collectors or apartment dwellers who can't live near a city park.
In these works and in her suspended terrarium, "Biosphere Built for Two" (2006), Bell is serving up ecology, technology, global warming and the frantic search for greenspace in urban settings.
Lambert adds insult to injury with his meteorological rain sculpture, "Portable Cloud Cover" (2005), a big water-filled, dripping clear-plastic balloon filling a kidney-shaped, galvanized-aluminum "pond" on the gallery floor. Bringing the soggy Northwest outdoors inside, Lambert cleverly reminds us of the origins of rain: water, condensation and air.
His Seattle debut at Catherine Person continues the geographical theme of his and Bell's works at SOIL, but falls prey to a common trap: ambitious ideas that do not quite measure up through material execution. Another giant cloud machine, "The Space Between Trees and Sky" (2005), rotates cloud-painted canvases above pond-like mirrors on the floor. "Feel Free" (2006) and "Heartbeat, Breath and Swallow" (2006) both recycle videotapes Lambert took on the cross-country drive to accept his new job at Cornish College. Too derivative of better-known video artists like Gary Hill and Bill Viola, they may yet lead to more original work.
One smaller, more delicate work in the back room better focuses the ideas of geographical displacement and confined nature that unites his work with the artists at SOIL. "Salve" (2005) sets a clear plastic house shape on top of a video monitor with a tape of constantly rushing water. If we can no longer find nature in its innate state, at least we can appreciate how artists are simulating it for us.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company