SAN DIEGO — Installation Gallery is struggling to regain its footing and funding after closing its downtown space in 1989. The 10-year-old organization has a new gallery downtown and a new director. But its new show--well, Installation will have to make more convincing arguments for its survival than this.
Kaucyila Brooke's "From: 13 Questions" combines flat, unremarkable photographs with equally tedious texts, splaying them across the gallery walls in slightly spunky montages. Despite the effort at dynamic display, Brooke's work remains painfully static.
The artist, a lecturer at UC San Diego, bases her photo/text installations on the information gleaned from a questionnaire she gave to her roommates in a lesbian collective. Ultimately, her project will address 13 questions, but only three are presented here: "Are you messy or neat?"; "Are you 'politically correct?' "; and "The food question." Brooke's photographs show women discussing these questions in settings related to the issues involved. "The food question," for instance, is mulled over in a grocery store parking lot.
This superficial attempt to relate the domestic ramifications of these issues to the larger geopolitical arena is as deep as Brooke gets. Her written accounts merely summarize the women's responses. In answering the question of political correctness, she simply defines her roommates according to a string of labels: "Elizabeth was basically pretty 'right on;' but, although she was butch acting, was learning carpentry, was a vegetarian on a wheatless diet and a volunteer member of the bookstore collective, she did wear the occasional skirt."
What makes this work so inconsequential is the fact that Brooke has drawn no conclusions--profound or otherwise--from the responses to her questionnaire. She has simply compiled them, like notes toward ideas, but stayed curiously shy of the ideas themselves. Just as the photographs she uses read like bland snapshots of someone else's experiences, so too do her texts read like a dull journal, neither intimate enough to absorb the reader nor instructive enough to enrich her.
Both Brooke and Installation Gallery might consider making more concessions to their audience.
\o7 Installation Gallery, 719 E St., open Tuesday-Saturday noon-5 p.m., through June 22.\f7
The image/text work on view at Sushi Gallery also feels tentative instead of the tough, teasing tirade it sets out to be. In her "Illustrated History" series, Los Angeles artist Mariona Barkus twists expectations, but she doesn't twist them hard enough. Her black-and-white, photo-copied panels pair advertising illustration with news writing on themes of the military, the environment and sexual politics. She sticks so closely to her sources, however, that her work manages only the most subtle subversions.
Barkus does stamp her tampered illustrations and texts with a bit of irony. She gives the Morton salt girl a tattered umbrella to indicate the effects of acid rain, for instance, and she describes Lockheed officials as "flushed with pride" over lowering their prices for toilet seats from $317 to $1. But her criticisms feel soft most of the time, when they should be razor sharp. With minimal graphic impact and little wry wit, Barkus' work barely serves the angry, righteous spirit that motivated it.
Also at Sushi, local artist Susan Schmidt presents "Questions With No Answers," a series of paintings suggesting the confinement of the human soul and the entrapment of human potential. In these large, vividly brushed works, Schmidt contrasts the individual's innately limber stretches with the societal, religious and military constructs that limit one's free reach.
She paints a nude figure, writhing or dancing in a clear cylindrical form in "Trapped in a Glass Jar With No Lid on It." Bordering the figure are images of a bride and groom, a floral bouquet, winged angels and stained-glass windows--all references to the potentially suffocating institution of marriage. In another painting, the figure clings to the lip of the cylinder, stuck between fighter planes racing overhead and ancient goddess figurines buried below. "Who, If I Cried Out, Would Hear Me Among the Angel Hierarchies?" the title asks.
Schmidt paints with rich color, but her symbolism feels a bit too tidy at times, especially her use of open doors, fingers pointing, question marks and marionettes to refer to the notion of personal choice and direction. Nevertheless, her paintings are about beauty and frustration as much as they themselves embody those traits.
\o7 Sushi Gallery, 852 8th Ave., open Friday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m., or weekdays by appointment (235-8466), through June 30.\f7