Five artists address intimacy at MECA’s ICA

Taking vows
By ANNIE LARMON  |  September 22, 2010


The largely performance-based offerings in "Mind-bending with the Mundane" inspect the confusing grayscale of modern relationships and family structures, addressing what contemporary domesticity looks like in a society of convenience and prerogative with diluted and outmoded institutions. Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger, a husband-and-husband team, headline the timely exhibit at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, with their panoply of playfully smart and simply-stated performance flotsam, video, and Kara Walker-esque silhouettes. Of the work in the exhibit, including three independent artists and the artist team, Miller and Shellabarger most aim to elicit an emotional response, sweetly mocking and observing the specifics of their relationship, relating to the complexities of intimate relationships at large, and also commenting on the public and private struggles of queer relationships.

The artists are similar in stature, but more notably both wear very long, bear-ish beards, an extension of themselves that becomes a motif in their work. Hair as a material conjures the grossness of the realities of intimacy, as well as the fragility of trust. In a series of four untitled silhouettes, the busts of the artists are profiled with their beards conjoined in different fashions in stark black and white paper. In one scene the beard seems to be unyielding, pulling the artists together as they try to yank apart, and in another the men glumly wear clown hats as their facial hair is tied together with a bow. In a nearby shadowbox in the gallery are two scraggly braided beards, snipped from the artists’ chins and displayed like some kind of relic.

In the video Sunburn from 1997, the artists embrace in a stand-up tanning bed for the duration of the 45-minute documentary, the resulting burn a painful symbol of mutual responsibility and protection. Photographs of their 2008 “Untitled Performance (Grave)” show the artists lying in side-by-side graves dug in Basel, Switzerland, wearing matching outfits. A small tunnel connects the two graves, enabling the men to hold hands in a retort to the traditional marriage vow "till death do us part."

Alix Lambert directly confronts the tenuousness of marriage with "Wedding Project," a 1992-93 performance piece in which she married and divorced three men and one woman in the space of six months. In the gallery are large-scale black-and-white prints of the artist’s four wedding photos, with Lambert posing in varying degrees of apathy. A white photo album sits atop a pedestal with a white glove, inviting the viewer to scan through all the required cliché shots of each wedding. The wedding certificates and divorce documents from the weddings (which happened in a New York City courthouse, a drive-through in Vegas, and in Hungary) are displayed in a mantle-worthy collage on another wall, proving the ease with which Lambert sailed through her host of marriages.

Both Allison Smith and Andrew Raftery employ anachronisms to comment on the "sets" and "props" with which we build our lives and identities and frame our relationships. Smith uses a Civil War aesthetic to call attention to current rifts and conflicts in our United States, particularly as related to feminist and queer communities. A calligraphy "Public Address" resides above two small installations in the Evans Hunt Gallery, transcribing a speech Smith delivered in New York in February 2005 as a "call to Art" and an invitation to "show off your revolutionary style."

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Institute for Contemporary Art, Institute for Contemporary Art, Civil War,  More more >
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