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Art : Culture, Landscape And Memory

September 13, 1990|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES ORANGE COUNTY ART CRITIC

"My photographs are like a story that begins in the middle, ends at the beginning" writes photographer Martha Fuller. "Awareness comes from experience that our cultural differences reinterpret."

Fuller's clusters of images--part of "Cultural Codes," a three-person exhibit at BC Space gallery in Laguna Beach--are deliberately indistinct glimpses of moments seen on her travels to India, Pakistan, Mexico and Japan. She combines slides of several scenes to make each black-and-white negative, sometimes zapping it with penlight in the darkroom to carve out arbitrary areas of darkness. The resulting silver gelatin prints hang in groupings that form geometric patterns on the wall.

One of these groupings is "Dark Under," a vision of a Japanese city in winter. Against blackness punctuated by the leaping calligraphy of restaurant signs, snow leaves its mark. It oozes down in blobs, sits thickly on bicycles and an umbrella, interrupts the sky with a coarse white spittle. A group of boys in (military?) school uniform listen to a gesturing boy who seems to be explaining something. The random clustering of these kids suddenly seems oddly akin to the patterns made by the falling snow.

Such scenes are exotic and familiar at the same time, animated by rhythms that suggest the way we retain bits and pieces of travel experience in our minds and link them in unpredictable, even irrational ways.

Jo Whaley uses collage and paint on her "Santos" series--Type C color prints of landscapes in Santa Fe, Spain and Mexico--to emphasize an aura of sadness and doom. Each patch of polluted land is guarded and lamented by a mournful painted wooden saint or an image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, presumably made by artisans of the locale. The combination of folk imagery, outdoor scenes and environmental proselytizing work together in a straightforward fashion, adding a ritualistic passion to Whaley's message.

In "Virgen del Basurero," a silver-garnished Madonna clasps her hands as if in worshipful dismay at the rusted metal cans perched on a mound of seashells. In "Madonna de Los Mechanicos" the title figure--in a gold sunburst crown and heavy black robe--appears as a vision at a building with a painted wall advertising tires ("vulcanizadora libres"). As Whaley knows we know, these tires will litter the land when they no longer serve their purpose.

The third artist, Sarah Leith, still seems to be feeling her way. She inlays color photographs on immaculately processed large black-and-white prints in ways that either seem so private that they resist decoding, or so banal that they don't seem worth doing. Architecture, landscape, animal and human imagery dance dreamily through these compositions, flirting shamelessly with the viewer's sense of logic.

What

"Cultural Codes," photographic work by three artists.

When

Through Oct. 6. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 Saturday.

Where

BC Space, 235 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach.

Whereabouts

Take California 133 (Laguna Canyon Road, which becomes Broadway) to Coast Highway and turn left. Forest Avenue is two streets down; the second-story gallery is in the first block, on your right. (Look for the small brass sign on the street door.)

Wherewithal

Admission is free.

Where to call

(714) 497-1880.

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