Saturday, November 6, 2010
By Tom Wachunas
“I think we can agree that the bright orb we see glowing constantly in the blue sky above us is in fact the sun. That is a truth. If I paint a picture of it, it is no longer that truth. What happens then if we put aside all the tedious rhetoric and codes we heap upon this thing we call art? All we have left in the end is a story. So the only real truth in art is that the artist makes it. Embrace that, and you might see how all art could be fiction. Historical fiction, perhaps, but fiction just the same.” – June Godwit -
Suppose for the moment that “every picture tells a story” is true and, similarly, that a given picture is worth in the neighborhood of a thousand words, give or take a few hundred. Now twist these platitudes around a bit, and you might come up with “every story is worth a painting, a photo, and a sculpture,” and you get the quantitative gist of the latest exhibit at Anderson Creative.
Even the show’s ponderous title smacks of something mildly mischievous if not pseudo-scientific: “Habitat: From the Recovered Trunks of Sir Steph(v)en Thomas Buckonhalt Andergan.” Shades of vintage National Geographic stories set in exotic lands. The story here is written by Steve Shumaker, displayed via large text panels, and supported with illustrations by Erin Mulligan, collaborative photographs by Jeremy Aronholt and Stephen McNulty, and sculptures by Kevin Anderson, Patrick Buckohr, and Tom Megalis.
The premise of this spoof of natural-history museum exhibits is that Sir Steph(v)en Thomas Buckonhalt Andergan (his name a composite of the participating artists) disappeared in Africa, and only his steamer trunks were recovered – filled with journals, photos, paintings, and taxidermy specimens – along with his manservant, Riley. We learn that the fictitious British naturalist was a contemporary of American entertainer Al Jolson, and his intent was to join the pantheon of world explorers by discovering new and strange species. He meets an astonishingly well-groomed, mute “native” (Riley), who is really a jazz musician. Their adventures and discoveries are as surreal as they are hilarious.
Shumaker’s writing is spot-on in its easy-going style and wit, along with its gleefully mangled Latin assignations of bizarre wildlife, like Trithumbus Dimmus Copulous (The Three-Toed Stumphumper). The stunning, elaborately-set photographs are equally delightful, imbued with a distinct vintage patina, and lend an epic, even cinematic (and certainly comedic) sweep to the proceedings. Mulligan’s ink and acrylic paintings are excellently rendered studies in pure whimsy while preserving an “official” presence. And the sculptured “specimens” share a similar sensibility, though I think the polymer clay pieces by Megalis have a palpable edge here on faux- authenticity.
One particular episode in this playful saga best encapsulates for me the gently demanding spirit of this show. In the segment called “Hypnopede (Cantilimbus Mesmerizus),” we read of the explorer’s encounter with a single-eyed “frightening beastie” with 100 legs, to wit: “I soon found myself unable to move, rooted to the ground and unable to look away from the monster’s single eye. My thoughts began to cloud and, although my mind knew to run, my legs were not about to cooperate.”
So yes, there is much text to read here. I actually heard moaning and groaning from a few fellow artists about having to negotiate “another one of those kinds of shows.” Gimme a break. To bypass the text is to do yourself and the artists a great disservice. I’m reminded of a recent Geico commercial. To paraphrase, maybe those jackwagons and others who share their sense of inconvenience should come on back from mamby-pamby land and just tough it out. Sheesh.
My own legs took me back to the exhibit and kept me rooted – body and mind - a second time. Cantilimbus Mesmerizus. Mesmerize us indeed.
Photo: “Slingshot Elephants (Launchis Pachydermis)” ink and acrylic on board, by Erin Mulligan, courtesy Anderson Creative Studio, on view through November 27 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. www.andersoncreativestudio.com