What do poultry skin, electron microscopes, cedar logs and silk chamise have in common?

February 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm 1 comment

From Mallory Cremin, Parks Exhibition Center Manager

What do poultry skin, electron microscopes, cedar logs and silk chamise have in common?  The current show at Parks Exhibition Center includes a wide range of media, photography, sculpture, video, graphic arts, but the conceptual line is surprisingly tightly woven.  The show is a fifteen year survey of work by Mary Beth Heffernan, a southern California artist, professor at Occidental College.  She had shown at Idyllwild Arts 18 years ago, and then it was photos printed on rabbit skins.  The theme of skin continues.

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As you enter the gallery, to your left is a collection of objects on the wall, directly transported from the artists studio.  This wall of inspiration includes prosthetic teeth, deflated leather punching bag, dolls eyes as well as one of the artists sketch books.  Ms. Heffernan has many sketches of the drapery on Christ from Renaissance paintings in major museums.  These sketches were then carefully reconstructed in poultry skin and meat, photographed in large format Black and White, and enlarged to 20” x 24” Silver Gelatin prints.  The flowing skin-fabric appears blown against the flesh of the man, but the form ends with the ‘fabric’.

The turbulence of motion ends at the wall beyond with a Splat!  Red lines radiate and drip from a tangled center.  Only on close examination does the viewer see that the lines are distorted text.  At a certain angle, you can read ‘smile’.  The anamorphic projection is inspired by Holbein’s secret skull in his painting from 1553.  The yellow smiley face is a more contemporary loaded icon, made darker by nature of the red color and violence.

The  smile radiates, or projects the viewer onward to a series of color photographs of the tattooed arms and torsos of soldiers from Twentynine Palms Military Base.  The freshly tattooed images memorialize the names of comrades who died in combat.  The images are raw and poignant, one is actually weeping blood.

The show gets closer to home here, with a leather chair and its farsed companion.  The second chair has been reconstituted to elongate the legs and add body above.  A cut cedar log has sliced sides onto which the legs are attached.  The living room is coming back to life as a more cultured nature.  Next to the animated log is a suit/dress, more an apparition than actual clothing.  The suit has much of the fabric cut away, keeping substance only where the seams are, and a wispy dress of ethereal silk hangs wear the body would be.  The combination refernces an idea that you still reside within me, loved ones both present and passed away.  The combination also plays with the idea of many other dicotomies, opposites existing inside each other.

Cutting away layers is the subject of the video  installation, where an electron microscope continuously scans closer and closer, magnifying the edge of the artists kitchen knife.  Is this tool of science revealing the truth about the sharp surface?  Or does the close examination just reveal absence.

And then there are the knives.

Parks Exhibition Center hours are Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm, or by appointment.
The Mary Beth Heffernan exhibit continues until March 4th, 2011.

Entry filed under: parks, Visual Art.

Thunder Soul at Idyllwild Arts Academy Casey and Julie

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Denise  |  February 14, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    This is a time when I wished we lived closer so we could actually BE THERE in the room and see your combined work. I recognize the soldier’s tat (did I tell you that I now have one!), the knives, the “red section” from photos sent from Bert when you had a show a little while back.
    Congrats! You’re always moving, always up to something good.


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