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Loaded questions amid the treetops

October 25, 2002|Holly Myers | Special to The Times

Uta Barth has long trained her camera where most people forget to look: the corners of empty rooms, the borders of windowpanes, the ledges of bookshelves.

At the Acme gallery, in a new series of photographs, her gaze ascends from domestic life to hover amid treetops and power lines. It is a bold and visually breathtaking body of work.

The installation consists of several dozen identically sized photographs hung at the same level, though in varying intervals, around the perimeter of the main gallery. Each depicts a slightly different view of what appears to be the same grouping of trees, their bare top branches silhouetted against a cold, white sky. Interspersed with these images are several flat, solid fields of white, gray and muted color (a coral pink or a yellowed beige, for example).

The images vary subtly: Some are perfectly focused, others slightly blurred; some are pixilated, some positivized; some double-exposed and some softly tinted with color. Barth seems to be playing with the notion of the photograph as an imprint -- an imprint of light onto paper as well as an imprint of figure onto ground -- in this case, skeletal tree branches against a white sky. In her shifting, sharpening, softening, overlaying and reversing, it is as though she's testing the malleability of that imprint.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 07, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 304 words Type of Material: Correction
Artist's name -- In an art gallery review in Friday's Calendar, artist Elizabeth McGrath, in a group show at Dirt, was misidentified as Elizabeth McGovern.

The result feels like a flickering of visual consciousness. As one stands at the center of the gallery, images float in and out of the white like phantoms. The character of the white itself also seems to fluctuate, from limitless to flat, alternately signifying presence and absence.

There is something existential about this vaulted space: It pulls one's attention out of the personal and raises questions about of the nature of the emptiness beyond. The tree is a loaded symbol and its appearance here suggests a sort of purgatory in which these questions might be considered -- a space not unlike that of art itself.

Acme, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Space 1, L.A., (323) 857-5942, through Nov. 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Hello Kitty finally gets to talk back

Hello Kitty is spending an evening at home. She turns off her Hello Kitty-shaped television, takes off her Hello Kitty slippers, nestles down beneath her Hello Kitty bedspread and reaches for her Hello Kitty vibrator. As she settles in, however, certain limitations become quickly apparent: Because she was created without any sort of mouth, her vocal expressions of pleasure amount to little more than meek, muffled murmurings beneath the earnest buzz of the vibrator. In a fit of frustration -- this is presumably a chronic problem -- she flings the device across the room.

So begins Jaime Scholnick's hilariously pointed tale of one girl-culture icon's quest to find a mouth -- a 10-minute live-action video that is the centerpiece of her current exhibition. The journey takes Hello Kitty from her native Japan, where she is refused by surgeon after surgeon ("Western eyes! Yes! Bigger breasts! Yes!" But a new mouth? "No!"), to Beverly Hills, where anything can be had for a price, and back to Japan to begin her new, vocally liberated life.

The video has a slick, cheerful visual style and an array of charming performances. It plays, in the exhibition, on Hello Kitty's own TV, in a re-created set of her bedroom.

The sense of outrage that simmers beneath the demure humor of the video -- outrage that grew specifically out of Scholnick's experiences living in Japan but that isn't limited to the scope of that culture alone -- bubbles to the surface in several wall-size chalk murals depicting Hello Kitty figures in ski masks waving machine guns. Spare in composition, the roughly 4-foot characters float against flat fields of black and hot pink. Impeccably rendered, these murals are both playful and vicious. The guns appear to spew only thin ribbons of color, yet the walls are scattered with violent black marks resembling bullet holes, suggesting that power often comes in deceptive packages.

Post, 1904 E. 7th St., L.A., (213) 622-8580, through Nov. 12. Closed Sundays through Wednesdays.


Taking pleasure in art's messiness

Working from the premise that "all the best things in life are gooey," a deliciously lighthearted little show at Dirt celebrates the aesthetics of viscosity. Curated by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, it features five New York artists whose work simulates the slimy, the sticky, the gummy and the gelatinous.

Elizabeth McGovern's quirky sculptures -- two mounds of hardened spray foam crowned with colorful plastic shopping bags -- explore the tactile potential of common objects and fall somewhere on the playful side of the junk-art continuum.

Karen Rich Beall's contribution to the show is a small brigade of translucent, jellyfish-like creatures that hang from the ceiling. With delicate coloration and long, thin tendrils, they are at once convincingly oceanic and wonderfully fantastical.

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