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AT THE GALLERIES / Robert McDonald

October 24, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — There is an embarrassment of photographic riches these days. And they aren't just pretty pictures.

The Grossmont College Art Gallery (8800 Grossmont College Drive, El Cajon) is exhibiting "At Odds," a photographic installation by San Francisco Bay area artist Marsha Red Bailey.

Twenty-two black-and-white photographs of solid white silhouettes of men and women in natural landscapes line the walls of the gallery. At its center is a group of the life-size silhouettes with rocks and dead plants brought in from the desert. It's a simple presentation but effective.

The artist fabricated the silhouettes by projecting photographs onto foam core, tracing their outlines and cutting them out. She then placed her immaculate forms in a variety of natural environments and photographed them. As images they have a cleanness, definition and richness of detail (shadows, for example) that would not be achieved by manipulation of the prints in the darkroom.

Bailey does, however, add her minimal texts (or titles) during the printing process. They are ostensibly simple plays on words. With the images, however, they are richly ambiguous.

"Just Ice," for example, looks like the traditional scenario of a woman's rejection of a man's advances. Or is it "justice"?

Bailey reuses her silhouettes, altering their perceived meanings by placing them in different contexts. A male figure playing with a dog in "In No Sence," for example, also appears in "Stag Nation," with its suggestion of male dominance.

The same theme appears more assertively, even horrifyingly, in "Mans Laughter."

Yes, there is feminist content here. But it is artful and non-strident, and all the more effective for that.

And there is much else besides: considerations of the relationship of human beings to the landscape, the relationship of language to photography, the cultural context in which society perceives photographs, and the technical, visual relationship of figure to field.

Faculty member Suda House curated the exhibition, which continues through Oct. 31.

At the Mandeville Gallery at UC San Diego, the works of three artists are featured in an exhibition titled "Photography: Suggestion and Fact." They are united in their use of photographs as means for conveying ideas and moods, not as ends in themselves. Specifically, all three artists in varying degrees use "set-ups"--situations they have either created or directed.

Ann Chamberlain, who is based in San Francisco, uses paired color and black-and-white prints of the same image. Her subjects are ostensibly fragments of domestic interiors--partial views of kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, bedrooms--but their real contents are the characters and plights of their absent inhabitants.

On the black-and-white images Chamberlain has chastely printed texts that are complementary in their incisiveness and poignancy and whose minimalism dissembles their evocativeness.

Here is a treat: the full text of "Interior No. 22 (Catfood)," which is a clutter of dishes on a kitchen floor by the baseboard:

"She adopted the stray, or maybe the stray adopted her. She treated him more like her child than a pet, serving his food on a tray with silver spoons. The stray, for his part, learned to live in her house quickly, to sharpen his claws on the furniture, and to refuse to go outside whenever it was cold."

Nic Nicosia of Dallas makes large, punchy color images. Although they appear candid, they are all illusions. The artist constructs and paints his backgrounds--the outside of a house, a city skyline, the interior of a restaurant--gathers props and costumes, and poses friends he has recruited to make his artful series entitled "The Cast."

"Andy with Gae and Heather" suggests some hanky-panky in the garage as Andy with camera slung around his neck poses with his scantily clad friends in the background. "Otis, Larry and Big Mike" is a cliched image of three Texans in a restaurant enjoying hamburgers, fries and chili.

The works are tours de force of illusionism with much humor but no poetry.

Donigan Cumming of Montreal provides a full measure of haunting poetry in an installation coolly entitled "Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography: Part 3," on loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ottawa.

The installation, including documents, large black-and-white photographs and a collage of taped sounds, is a shrine of necrophiliac passion for Elvis Presley.

Cumming began with reality, albeit the reality of a fantasy. The story he tells is true.

"For 11 months in 1980, a 42-year-old woman wrote hundreds of love letters to Elvis Presley.

"She mailed them to the post office box of a supermarket tabloid and hoped for the appearance of Presley himself. Convinced that he was alive, and had not died on Aug. 16, 1977, she believed that Elvis spoke to her through songs that he arranged to have played on the radio and by the tap that he maintained on her telephone.

"In November of the same year, her letters stopped."

Several of the letters, whose madness vies with their poignancy, appear in the exhibition.

The photographs feature real people in their environments with Presley memorabilia. Cumming intervened to the extent of directing their poses in making his "candidly fictional" images identified by dates.

In "July 7, 1985," for example, a young couple, ill-dressed and too heavy for health and comfort, stand as if in a beatific trance. The woman holds up an advertisement for a vial of "Elvis' sweat, ONLY for the most devoted fan."

The installation is creepy and unforgettable.

This is an exceptional exhibition. It continues through Nov. 2.

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