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Pastmodern art

September 14, 2008|Liesl Bradner

STEPHEN BERKMAN'S new exhibition, "Chamber Pieces," is a study in what happens when a modern sense of whimsy meets the 19th century. The show at the Laband Art Gallery on the campus of Loyola Marymount University presents a series of photos and installations rooted in centuries-old techniques such as camera obscura and ambrotype.

"I see my work as a coda to the 19th century," said Berkman, who styles his subjects to appear from the past and melds a bit of modernism within the image to create a collision of cultures. The photographs look to convey a magical, transcendental feeling to retell a story of bygone place and time, often with an absurd twist. For example, one work in the show, "Conjoined Twins," takes a whimsical peek at sideshow-esque performers as brothers who are joined by a mere, singular mustache.

Another common theme in Berkman's work is that of the outsider, placed in an artificial environment but not at home in any world. He frequently integrates images of other beings into his work, such as Cro-Magnon man or extraterrestrials. In his piece "The Exhibition," an albino alien is flanked by two smartly dressed gentlemen. "I liked the idea of an alien in the 19th century," explained Berkman, who says he was inspired by Ishi, California's last "wild" Indian who lived in a museum the last five years of his life.

Berkman -- who was born in Syracuse, N.Y., raised in Northern California and attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena -- says his use of antiquated photo processes came as a result of his own research into the basic elements of the art form.

On Oct. 2, he'll join David Wilson, founder and director of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, in a conversation about their shared tastes for bizarre curiosities. For more information on the exhibit, which runs through Nov. 23, visit cfa.lmu.edu/laband.

-- Liesl Bradner

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