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Out of the Cookie Cutter

SJSU grads are ready to go 'Out of State'

By Ann Elliott Sherman

THE JOE MILLER-DESIGNED exhibition notice for the latest edition of the annual WORKS/San José showcase for SJSU School of Art and Design grads, Out of State, is the visual equivalent of a nudge, a wink and a mean poke. Where the poke lands is largely a matter of sensibility--the visual metaphor of raw meat fresh out of a cookie cutter might simply strike one's funny bone or seem a blow below the belt.

Leaving to Miss Manners the propriety of insulting invited guests, Miller does hit more than a possible nerve. While widely divergent from one another--and to a one technically accomplished--the work of the participating artists is just the sort of thing we've come to expect from a contemporary survey exhibition. One possible spin on this is that SJSU has well prepared them to enter the current art scene; another is that the cookie-cutter metaphor is at least as apt as it is clever.

Whatever idiosyncrasies do come through are largely matters of context, tone or personality, as opposed to visual strategies. While installations with a domestic theme involving foodstuffs have certainly been done before, Erin Sotak's darkly comic riffs on the relationship gamble, like a well-told joke, succeed on the strength of their execution. Domesticity here doesn't serve as a stand-in for traditional gender roles or family structures but rather as a way to ironically underscore a decidedly singular status.

In Sotak's fractured fairy tales, if life is just a bowl of cherries, love is just the pits, and falling in love (or at least into bed) is the byproduct of cosmic banana peels. Call me for dinner, sometime consists of a dining table expertly decoupaged with strips torn from the phone book's residential white pages. Rows of withering maraschino cocktail cherries are laid out on top, usually singly, but occasionally so that two cherries touch ever so slightly, making a pair.

Even better is the sardonically poignant payoff of the companion piece, Jackpot. A kitchen work table of unfinished wood has literally been given a cherry stain, remnants of the rubbed skins left clinging here and there, the formerly pristine white dish towel thrown down (or is it in?).

The five Mason jars set out on the table have been filled, not with plump fruit or sweet preserves, but pits. On the floor below, clean jars are set in a shiny, galvanized tub--a testament to hope or resignation to further unproductive "putting up/out" in that hot kitchen.

About 180 degrees from Sotak's wryly ironic view, Davey Hubey presents a photographic poème d'amour to the City of Light--and Clean Gutters. No wonder Paris' 6th Arrondissement is a favorite site for mythic Bohemian street life--those cobbled rues have the benefit of a built-in bidet, thanks to Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. His ingenious 19th-century design connects rain gutters and household drain pipes to dual spigots imbedded in the street-corner curb, providing a daily street washing.

As Hubey's Coins des Rues chronicles, the flow of this gutter wash water is controlled by adjusting the placement of a rolled rug bundled with string near the outflow. Hubey has photographed these low-tech devices in all sorts of weather and light, as they would appear from the perspective of a pedestrian.

The gelatin silver prints are especially effective where water adds movement and reflection, accenting the textures of cement and metal spigot covers.

Like a good student, Hubay cites his antecedents and references, from Anatole France to Walter Benjamin's take on Eugène Atget's photographs of empty Paris streets as establishing evidence. Most tellingly, Hubey cites Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life as influencing his decision to finish the photo series despite learning that similar images were being shown by other artists.

The French intellectual has influenced, among other things, hypertext theory, and is no stranger to recent SJSU art grads. But where de Certeau wrote of ways that common folk can escape the forces of commerce, politics and culture to determine the shape and meaning of contemporary life, Hubey simultaneously evokes the cultural ghosts that haunt the Paris neighborhood he photographs while celebrating the ubiquitous detail of the street rugs. Coins des Rues suggests the educated thrill of walking in the shoes of past cultural heroes much more than radically reconsidering what constitutes a meaningful, present reality.

SEAN MONAGHAN presents Entropy, Parts IV-VI, miniature, monogrammed versions of the kind of industrial vessels used to pour molten substances. Two of the three are cast in glass, presumably from the center-hung, metal version. All three hold an already-formed bar of glass shaped like bullion.

This piece embodies more than one of the definitions of entropy Monaghan has listed on an engraving plate hung nearby. A brainy comment on "the amount of information in a message based on the logarithm of the number of possible equivalent messages" and the degraded quality of art created without an infusion of energy, heat or original inspiration, Entropy aptly leaves one rather cold.

Rachel Lazo's abstract oils are smoothly biomorphic, obsessive investigations of every shade of red known to lipstick color charts. Crimson Inside and Insurrection both left such vivid impressions of a phallic Rorschach test that like a drunk swearing off the sauce after seeing pink elephants, I vowed on the spot to give up the 10 O'clock News in favor of more salacious nocturnal habits. Interior Landscape, more diverse in palette and brush stroke, invited a less "is it just me?" form of contemplation.

Out of State runs through June 10 at WORKS/San Jose, 30 N. Third St., San Jose. (408.295.8378)

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From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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