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Animal instinct What would happen if the fauna could talk to humans?

"Red Heart/Black Tongues," an installation by multidisciplinary artist David Mitchell, is currently at Big Orbit Gallery. Crucial to its production is that the site-specific piece was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.

The state of the arts today is such that, largely, artists with a large project in mind must find a gallery willing to commit to it and apply for funds on their behalf. For Mitchell with Big Orbit, that willingness existed.

"Installation-based art has the ability to engage the public in a multidisciplinary, cross-media discourse," said Big Orbit executive director Sean Donaher. "That holds the potential to involve more kinds of people in the artistic process."

That support -- both artistic and financial -- allowed Mitchell, 33, who also works as a teacher, to spend 12 weeks at the gallery constructing the work. The resulting tableau contains two wrecked cars, two taxidermied deer and three accompanying videos, plus lighting and soundtracks in a 10-minute loop.

Mitchell is quick to acknowledge popular culture's influence on his art.

"I'm American," he said. "I watch TV and movies. I've got kids. We love to go for drives in the car.

"What if Disney is right? What if the animals started trying to affect our lives in some way?" he said. "Of course, Americans are good at processing the real. But we are obsessed with the idea of the American dream.

"I think about how love is portrayed in American cinema," he said. "With this piece, I wanted to imbue that honey-coated cinema version with love's visceral violence and trauma -- yet not have it come out jaded or grotesque."

Mitchell, who received a bachelor's degree from Buffalo State College and a master's of fine arts from New York University, has achieved that goal. The piece is visceral in its own right. It's also appropriately accessible, considering his belief that art should not be an exclusive or academic experience.

Part of Mitchell's inspiration came when he saw a trio of deer while out on a drive. He noticed the buck stop in the middle of the road and allow the smaller adult and baby to cross before proceeding.

"The installation's emotive quality encourages people to think differently about the idea of love," he said. "Also, to think about what art can be on a visual or experience level. I want people to feel the heat from the lights, to feel the vibrations from the soundtrack in their body, just feel it."

"People with theoretical backgrounds can analyze it from that point of view," he said, "and those without that experience can look at it as spectacle alone."

Big Orbit is housed within a compound -- a former icehouse and stables -- where the Griffis family's Ashford Hollow Foundation has been supporting the arts for two generations. The installation will be up through Nov. 22.

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WHAT: "Red Heart/Black Tongues" by David Mitchell

WHEN: Through Nov. 22

WHERE: Big Orbit Gallery, 30D Essex St.

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 560-1968 or www.bigorbitgallery.org

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