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ART REVIEWS : Jonathan Borofsky Has Got the World on a String

June 03, 1993|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"String of Consciousness," the title of Jonathan Borofsky's latest installation, sounds like (but isn't) a malapropism. Not that Borofsky is averse to Freudian slips--malapropisms, jokes, dreams. This is the stuff of his art, which registers alternately as slapstick routine or intellectual exercise. Indeed, Borofsky likes to walk the line--one foot dangling toward free-wheeling excess, the other staying the course with the deliberation of the seasoned obsessive.

This installation, at the Remba Gallery, begins with string, which soars across the room or into the rafters, extending from the objects the artist has assembled--large, cast-copper numbers propped against one another, floating near the ceiling, crawling along the floor, or wedged into mounds of dirt; black bowls filled with or surrounded by cast lemons, colored a noxious green; a dream about hibernating grasshoppers transcribed onto the wall.

The absurdity is familiar; the spareness is surprising. The ensemble feels less like a dream to be decoded than a stage set in which something is about to take place. We wander through, alert, and only hesitatingly become aware that something is already taking place--the very act of wandering.

If the string works to anchor the unconscious to the conscious, the irrational to the rational, and the heavens to the earth, it also works to tie the spectator first to the artwork, then to the artist, and finally back to him or herself, where meaning ultimately resides. Borofsky's mise-en-scene reminds us that art--like the dream--doesn't stop at the primary process. It hinges on secondary revision--that is, on us.

* Remba, 918 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 576 - 1011. Through June 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Read All About It: The "Artists' Writing Reading Room" at Side Street Projects is not your typical show. There are things to be seen, of course. But what you get to look at is language; and conversely, what you get to read are objects.

Here, artists' books dangle on transparent wires, sit on coffee tables, perch atop brightly colored pedestals, and meander across the walls. An artist's book can be a steno pad covered with obsessive phrases, words scrawled on the floor in circular patterns, or liquid-filled apothecary jars with alphabet blocks trapped inside them. Deftly orchestrated by curators Karen Atkinson and Erica Bornstein, this show materializes what critic Craig Owens refers to as the preeminent characteristic of Postmodernism--the eruption of language into the field of the visual.

If this sounds too theoretical, head straight to the back corner where, by the green couch and open window, you'll find Kaucylia Brooke and Jane Cottis' book in which the artists make mincemeat of a character in a good suit and a tightly wound bun named "Theory Woman."

If all this doesn't sound theoretical enough, take Laurel Paley's "Art Self Test," and mull over, among other things, whether art is (a) beauty, (b) truth or (c) European.

The pleasure of the show is not only the profusion and variety of texts (more than 30 artists are represented), nor merely the inviting setting. It is the notion implicit in all this that art doesn't provide an instantaneous fix; as it unfolds in space, so it unfolds in time. Nor does it any longer subsume the verbal to the visual. These are mutually imbricated in a scheme that denies categories and unfixes genres. Look around for awhile. This is what the future looks like.

* Side Street Projects, 1629 18th St. No. 2, Santa Monica, (310) 829 - 0779. Open Wed .- Sat., through July 15.

Lupine Lust: As far as cross-dressers go, the Wolf is a serious offender--appearing in sheep's clothing, in Grandma's nightgown, or with those big teeth otherwise ingeniously concealed.

In her current installation, Millie Wilson latches onto the metaphor of the Wolf in the Garden to deal not only with cross-dressing as a lesbian activity, but with lesbianism itself, specifically insofar as it has been constructed as an intrusion, an aberration, and/or a threat in the heterosexist Garden of Eden.

Wilson is deft, ironic and quick as she seizes upon icons from both high and low culture and teases out (or more often, appends) a lesbian subtext. It can be as simple as taking the chrome girls that decorate monster trucks and overlapping them, so that each becomes the other's love object; or reconfiguring familiar Minimal forms so that they read as female genitalia.

Or it can be as complex as an upholstered head sporting a leather cap with false flowers and ivy spilling down its back, the notion of homosexuality as artificial nature tangled up with the myth of the nymph who (tragically? heroically?) chose to become a tree rather than succumb to her male pursuer.

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