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April 25th, 2007 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

Invisible.other at New American Art Union

Daniel Barron's digital dreamscapes are cool, but they're not the real deal.

     
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New American Art Union's invisible.other, curated by TJ Norris, is a well-conceived, well-executed show with diverse highlights. In Melia Donovan's Frostie Freeze, the artist rendered a Midwestern fast-food joint by poking holes onto the gallery wall with a Dremel. The piece is so subtle, you could easily walk by it without even knowing it's there. Susan Robb's Levelfivefieldrecorder is a bisected photograph with woozy green lightplay suggestive of a flower-bordered swimming pool by night. Abi Spring's Wet is perhaps the artist's most subtle piece to date, departing from her richly saturated palette in favor of delicately shaded electric yellow patterns, which suggest chlorophyll as seen under a microscope.

The show's most disturbing and enigmatic works come courtesy of Olympia-based artist Daniel Barron, whose photographic phantasmagorias are the stuff of which nightmares are made. Late at night, after he tucks his children into bed, Barron snaps digital pictures of mundane objects around the house: toys, groceries, his own elbow.... Then, using PhotoShop, he digitally manipulates this source material into horrific montages. Peasant shows an object that appears to be an uncooked chicken being sprayed with milk, the drops splattering upon impact, frozen in time like short-exposure mushroom clouds. The image, along with a companion piece, Seed, is many things: nifty, novel, shocking, disgusting. But one thing it is not is real. There is something important lacking in these works that is not lacking in photos where fantastical effects are created in-camera. For decades, Lois Greenfield has captured airborne dancers frozen in the unlikeliest of positions, sans camera tricks and with the offscreen aid of only the occasional trampoline. In 1948, Philippe Halsman created Dalí Atomicus, in which the late Surrealist appeared to float mid-air amid similarly gravity-defying paintings, a chair, an arc of water, and three cats. This well-known image was the best of 28 different exposures, each of which had assistants throwing the cats and water into the air, and Dalí himself jumping on the count of three. It is no doubt old-fashioned to suggest that doing something for real is better than doing it with the aid of PhotoShop. If Barron had squirted an actual raw chicken with milk, the finished photo might have looked exactly the same as his digital manipulation, but it would have had greater credibility and held a more authentic interest for the viewer. Then again, I can tell you from experience that squirting raw chickens with milk is really, really gross.


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