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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Exhibit Takes Christian Dogma to Task

Julie Knudson's forceful installation challenges the notion of children who die without being 'saved.'

July 25, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Be forewarned: There is nothing particularly cautious, polite or soft-peddling in "Limbo," Julie Knudson's provocative installation now inhabiting the outer gallery of Ventura's Performance Studio. Knudson's work is an unflinching reflection on the notion of biblically ascribed redemption, as it relates to children who pass from this life before having had the opportunity to be "saved."

Dark allusions and grim elements immediately strike visitors to the gallery, even before enough evidence is gathered to decipher the subject. The dim gallery has been elaborately designed, with strings of lights and a cruciform structure, to evoke the hushed, sacrosanct atmosphere of a chapel, but with a distinctly irreverent subtext.

A ghostly, blackened congregation of girl's dresses suggests lost innocence. On a gallery wall, Knudson defines limbo as "a region bordering on hell; the abode for the souls of unbaptized infants."

At the head of this ad-hoc sanctuary is the chilling motorized piece, which was recently seen out of context as part of the group show in the City Hall's third floor gallery. The martyred, mud-caked likeness of a little girl's body, without head, hands or feet, is strapped onto a large, rotating wheel emblazoned with Latin liturgical texts; the grinding sound of the turning wheel adds to the unsettling emotional effect of the work.

Other images in the gallery perpetuate the theme of sullied innocence and religious harshness. A blue velvet cross is dotted with nails (coffin nails?), on which are printed operative verbs--"covet, pray, lie, cheat, confess." A white dress hangs, barely visible behind a covering of black fabric, while a forlorn-looking cherub, spattered with wax, sits in a bird cage, oppressed and stripped of joy. In another corner, a nun's head peeks out of a box, miming a "speak no evil" gesture.

Inevitably, responses to this art will be colored by the spiritual beliefs of the beholders, and controversy is bound to rear its head. But Knudson is to be admired for the frank audacity of her approach, not to mention the well-gauged emotional voltage of her imagery.

Throughout the work, a sense of barely suppressed rage and indignation seeps out, as the artist seems to be pointing out the innate cruelty of certain aspects of Christian dogma.

It's not an easy show to look at or ponder, but one that forcefully expresses its point.

* Julie Knudson's "Limbo," through August at gallery one one annex, at the Performance Studio, 34 N. Palm St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 4-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 641-0111.

*

Eyeing the Land, Mindfully: Betty Buckner's paintings, now at the Buenaventura Gallery, tend to show their admiration for the great agricultural outdoors. But they also take some pleasing detours around landscape conventions.

Often her images are broken into fragments and facets, sometimes recalling the geometric reordering of the picture plane as epitomized by Richard Diebenkorn.

"Hills and Dales" is a patchwork quilt of irregular rectangles, reminiscent of farms as seen from an airplane window--if that window were a prism. The idea of patchwork gets a literal interpretation in "California Vista," in which extra strips of canvas are attached to the surface of the painting, lending a scruffy three-dimensionality to the piece.

The diptych called "Safflower Fields" is keyed to diagonal lines, guiding the eye away from a standard sense of composition. In "Sudden Winds," would-be geometric order is upset a bit by scattered, wind-swept images.

Buckner also moves indoors at times, as in "Sunny Windows," with its rolling hills viewed through a window. Hidden away in a corner of the gallery, "Elegant Onions" is just that: a warm, affectionately observed still life with vegetables, in contrast to the larger scope of her landscapes.

In the outer gallery of the Buenaventura, devoted to a rotating selection of art each month, the most striking and imaginative works at present are those by David Starfas. His dark, fantastic, semi-surreal paintings--painted on rough, plaster-like surfaces--relish circus kitsch and magic trickery.

"Corporate Junction in the Land of the Barren," despite its overbearing title, is effectively quirky, with boinging, distended Jack-in-the-box heads portraying corporate cogs whose ineffectuality fails to blunt their resolve. Fueled by a strange, glum comedy, Starfas makes sad yet funny paintings that both bemoan and celebrate life's absurdity.

* Betty Buckner, through Aug. 10 and David Starfas through July at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 648-1235.

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