Real Is Real

Two shows at the Soap Factory examine the rough magic of mechanical imagery

A visit to the Soap Factory, home of No Name Exhibitions, often feels less like a gallery hop than an architectural salvage. The building's courtyard, nestled against the railyards of Minneapolis's ruinous Mill District, has been methodically conquered by weeds. The interior brick is naked and pitted, with nests of wiring visible beyond. Slivers of sunlight creep through hidden chinks. The occasional floorboard has gone missing. In physical bearing, as well as in spirit, the Factory satisfies the title of one of No Name's current installations: Crude, Protean, and Full of Possibility.

The art currently on display in two shows by five midcareer artists seems elevated by its tumble-down habitat. Take, for example, New Mexico-based artist Edie Tsong's contribution to the "Attached" show, Ass Production, which greets visitors with a monumental mooning. Taking a cue from the apocryphal office prank, Tsong has deployed 180 photocopies of an unidentified aft in an op-art pattern that bleeds at the edges into pixilated abstraction. Were they in another space, Tsong's Ass and her other work, a jumble of celebrity figures sketched directly onto the wall, would look juvenile. Hell, it is juvenile. In the Factory, though, Tsong's cheeky pieces take on the cheerful vulgarity of graffiti; they belong on these walls.

Likewise, the aforementioned Crude, Protean, and Full of Possibility, a sound-and-video installation by New York artists David Galbraith and Teresa Seemann, would wilt under the harsher light of more rarefied surroundings. For one thing, visitors would be forced to read Galbraith and Seemann's explanation of their work (here, it's safely hidden in a binder at the gallery's entrance). Taking flight from a William Gass quote, their artist's statement reads, "If, on the one hand, Gass implies a certain, if not truth, then honesty of reality, in the monumental fluid physicality of a tidal wave; on the other, Maurice Blanchot posits, 'The real is real inasmuch as it excludes possibility--because, in other words, it is impossible." Really?

If you don't know that Galbraith and Seemann are evoking an "infinitude of intensity" through a "pataphysical excursion," their room-size piece is quite enjoyable. The soundscape, generated by the flux of electrical voltage through a synthesizer, is a low, undulating thrum that nicely complements the three short, hypnotic animations on display: a tidal wave that looks like a Matisse in a rock-shaker; an ocean-going ship jittering beneath an aquamarine sky; and a boulder that tumbles endlessly down a blurry green landscape. Taken as a piece, the installation has an anxious, provisional, even playful, energy--though, after reading its creators' art-school dissertation, this may seem less the result of design than of happy coincidence.

In the case of Yumi Janairo Roth's three wall-bound sculptures--wood and Formica cut into three-dimensional topographies, with titles like "Mocha Glace With Misty Frame"--a little foreknowledge supplements appreciation. Roth, who is based in Wisconsin, has an interest in domestic design, and her sculptures are in fact blown-up, tricked-out examples of the laminate sample chips available to do-it-yourselfers at Home Depot. ("Attached" is, by the way, loosely organized around its participants' interest in machine-made imagery.) Conceptually, these sculptures might constitute a sortie against the absurdity of Martha Stewart and Michael Graves--namely, that one can buy aesthetics off the rack. But they're not as didactic as all that: Roth clearly takes genuine delight in her materials, and the patterns she creates have their own mellow pleasure, like the cheesy shag carpeting and shelf paper that signify home.

The only local artist featured is Anne George, and her photo series in the "Attached" show, called "Clench," might be the most fully realized work here. While visiting a rural cemetery, George was inspired to take pictures of the artificial-flower arrangements placed in memoriam. The images are gorgeous: The plastic roses and chrysanthemums, bound up carefully with twine, are explosions of pastel color, heightened to an almost vulgar brightness by the camera. Yet there's a melancholy tint as well: These ageless memento mori, we can't help but be reminded, were placed by a human hand. As a series, they represent a mini-essay on impermanence--not only of images, but also of life and memory. Especially in these surroundings, so shaped by time and transience, George's work speaks eloquently and wordlessly for itself.

 
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