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THE BIG OOZE

DEHISCENCE, NEW WORK BY PATRICK HOLDERFIELD

WHEN: Through July 7

WHERE: Big Orbit Gallery, 30-D Essex St.

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: 883-3209

In Patrick Holderfield's sculpture the pod people of B-movie fame are evidently in firm control. In the world of this artist, it would seem that modern humans produce all kinds of sleek or wonderfully useful consumer objects, only to have them surreptitiously invaded by alien seeds designed to grow and finally erupt in malignant outcroppings.

As a Buffalo State College painting student 10 years back, Holderfield was one of the very first artists to show in Big Orbit. Now living in Seattle, Wash., he is making a very different kind of art by squirting polyurethane foam into found objects. The result is an artificial bio-ooze of icky sci-fi deportment that clings to the surfaces of such things as auto hoods, PVC pipe, shoes and toasters.

As an illustration of this ickiness, one only has to look at the ordinary pair of men's black shoes featuring rather startling blood-tinged growths suggesting puffed up entrails outfitted with bright red, sausage-like extensions. Or equally gross is a model airplane that exudes a disgusting brown mass from its cockpit and sends streams of the unsavory gunk back along its fuselage.

And perhaps the most revolting: A toaster laden with ugly umber clots of matter so repellent that it will make you completely rethink your pop tart consumption.

Holderfield calls the exhibition "Dehiscence," not exactly a household word. In botany, dehiscence has to do with pods - normal, earthly pods, not the nasty invading kind - releasing their contents in predetermined structures. Less picturesquely, in medicine the word refers to the splitting open of a wound or an organ.

For all its repugnant content, however, there is a calculation to this art, a care as to the placement and precise formation of these extrusions. After you get over the initial visceral jolt, many of these invading lumps seem less a violation than a designer's well-considered formal contrast.

The formal niceties applied to otherwise unpleasant forms hint - not always successfully - at a satirical intent. I found it hard to take the hot pink, coral-like substance growing out of the windows of a model semi tractor-trailer as a representation of even a bizarre disaster scene. The thought of an unsuspecting driver entombed in that silly pink stuff made me laugh, not worry about the fate of our runaway consumer culture.

The work that sealed the case for me, though, is "Self-Portrait." Here the artist is depicted as an absurd cluster of black and pink swollen nodes neatly attached to a taxidermist's board like some kind of demented den trophy. Despite what might be exposed brain matter and various bits of misplaced body organs, it is - in modernist terms - a very handsome object.

This weirdly beautiful, humorous and finally disconcerting piece is a kind of brutal Guts R Us indictment of a dangerously object-obsessed culture. It seems to say, repress your biological destiny and it will come back and get you with a vengeance.

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