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Remote and in Control : * The artists in the Pierce College show investigate the murky forces that impose their will on society. The work is also about taking responsibility, the gallery director says.

March 18, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

WOODLAND HILLS — Who has power in our society? The President and other elected officials? Corporate lobbyists and special interests? The media? Infamous talk show hosts? What about the people?

Artists living outside the mainstream have the power to question the way the world operates. In the Pierce College Art Gallery show "The Control of Power," four Los Angeles artists challenge not only the powers that be but the people who feel that they have no way to make a difference.

The show is "about power, and taking responsibility if you have power," said gallery director Joan Kahn.

Jacqueline Dreager sees her installation "Who Killed Pinky?" as "a metaphor for who's killing this country," she said.

One section of the work focuses on Ernest Suggs Jr., a homeless man who lived in a car in the Skid Row parking lot near Dreager's studio. When he needed money, he modeled for her. Two large photographs here depict Suggs as model: In one, his face is covered with a white mask. In the other, he stands astride a white fiberglass mold for a carousel horse.

Dreager took a series of smaller photographs of Suggs at the mortuary, after he was murdered in June, 1993. "I had to go there," she said. "I wanted him to live on. I knew I was going to do a piece. It was part of my letting go of him."

Accompanying this part of the installation is a book, "For Memories That Last . . . Forever," which contains poetry that Dreager, her friends and people on Skid Row wrote in honor of Suggs. She had done several books on him when he was alive.

A "wonderful musician" addicted to crack--"he tried to get off but he couldn't," Dreager said--he was "larger than life, a real presence, innately talented, and I liked him. He was a real decent human being." Dreager feels that his life and death "speak to our system and society of drugs and guns."

The other section of her installation concentrates on the perils women face in our society. A series of photographs of women's torsos--not exactly the airbrushed images one finds in fashion magazines--has been mounted on the wall under the threat of numerous small replicas of knives from the Philippines. They "were designed solely to rip your guts out," Dreager said.

Below the knives and photographs rests a pink negligee. On each side of the pictures is a photocopy of Thomas Gainsborough's painting "Pinky." Each is accessorized with symbols of femaleness. A vision of maleness stands at the center of the composition.

"I have a hard time with the male ego and power," Dreager said. She sees her art as "a lifetime of experiences for me that I've collected and brought to the work." She wants viewers to "bring their own experiences to it and open up to it."

*

Gary Lloyd created the 100-inch power tower and oil rig, "Desert Stor No M," as a model for a 100-foot, solar-powered sound sculpture he intends to install in the Mojave Desert on behalf of a local patron. A public-band radio would broadcast sounds from the site, including those of coyotes and cactus in the wind, within a 10-mile radius. An elementary school in the area would receive transmissions and send back their own.

Signs in four languages would alert visitors to the fact that what they say could be heard by others. The message Lloyd wants to convey: "When you're here, you're on, so be responsible. People are listening.

"Placing works is the exciting part for me. This work is connected to a city, site, population and a social responsibility rather than determined by a market-driven gallery / museum complex. Artists can take responsibility by putting art in the right place."

Ed Colver "plays with simple icons," he said, in making his assemblages and his bitingly witty commentaries on corporate and institutional power.

On first glance, "Unlimited Edition" looks like a set of encyclopedias. But these books, 112 volumes, are titled "Corruption in American Politics."

The life-size figure "Mr. Humble" has needles coming out of his head. "Mrs. Humble" has flags coming out of hers, and she seems to be regurgitating her lunch. The strains of striving to obtain the American Dream seem to have gotten to them.

"People should fight against corporations every day of their lives," Colver said. "They are building Big Brother. You won't have a choice of a place to shop."

John O'Brien's steel, paint, canvas, neon and wood "Untitled (Rift)" sculptural installation piece considers the changes in the East-West power struggle. It incorporates a small red star for communism and a much bigger peace symbol.

Yet a screen within the work seems to indicate that we don't really know what's going on, that some important information is being screened out. The question is, by whom?

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "The Control of Power."

Location: Pierce College Art Gallery, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Ends March 24.

Call: (818) 719-6498.

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