P.K. Steffen, burn, 1997. Mixed media print on book pages. 76" x 43.5"
"Blank" presents a strong but lyrical panalopy of video and mixed-media works on paper by local artist P.K. Steffen. Dancing, undulating black shapes run throughout Steffen's work but never quite come into focus. Large, carefully arranged rectangles made from pages of romance novels serve as the canvas onto which Steffen screen prints his signature vague, ghostly black ink images in Signal. The cheesy text of the racy romantic tale unfolding on the pages offers a humorous edge and counteracts the otherwise dreamy quality of the piece, grounding it in this realm of exitistence. One of the video works, Lush, involves a projection onto a small picture frame mounted on the wall, making a very literal moving picture. Brown and tan shadows meander and then fly across the picture as a mesmerizing cello solo by Yo-Yo Ma flows from nearby speakers. The overall effect of the work is reminiscent of a late afternoon shadow in the summer as it grows long in the setting sun. Although it's hard to tell just what's going on in Steffen's work in terms of reality, the pieces speak to something deeper.
Thru June 12: Thu-Fri 5-8 pm, Sat 11 am-8 pm and by appt,; A.O.V., 3326 22nd St. (between Guerrero and Valencia); 415.431.8341
Strawberry, part of Alexandra
Feit's exhibit "She"
at the Mission District gallery A.O.V.
Alexandra Feit's show "She" is comprised of eight yummy-looking soft sculptures that invite your eyes and tempt your fingers inside to caress their surfaces and nestle among their innards. The pieces, all made up of varying quantities of circular pillowy components, are arranged in traditional modernist grid formations. They do everything in their power, though, to subvert this confining, linear male system. Feit's use of a particularly lush quality of faux fur, rich satins, and gauze in tempting shades of ivory, white, pink, and brown declares space for play through notions of sensuality and touch.
Although the promise of warmth, sweetness, and softness lies at the surface of these pieces, the works are subtly loaded with unpleasant mo ments. Seven of the nine centered, circular orifices (bellybuttons?) in Polar Bear have been sewn up with orange stitching, the marks suggesting memories of pain. The two remaining holes, however, are still demurely, invitingly open, full of either hope or naivetÈ -- depending on how your glass is filled that day -- that they'll be filled with something equally as alluring and tender.
"She" shows through Jan. 30, 1999, at A.O.V. Gallery, 3328 22nd St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is free; call 431-8341.
Though its status as a Mission District corridor of hip restaurants and drinking establishments has been in effect for some time, the epicenter of 22nd and Valencia Streets now has a bit of art to add to the mix. The recently opened, surprisingly spiffy little gallery called A.O.V. features artwork that may provide some substance to spice up the neighborhood bar chatter. The current show (the second to appear at this cozy little spot), however, may have less appeal for those headed for a pricy dinner. Allyson Levy's series of wax paintings, titled "Markings," is a very convincing, slightly stomach-turning look at skin conditions. The 31 square pieces are enlarged images of pinkish epidermis that has definitely not endured a clarifying peel at the dermatologist's. Abrasions, scars, moles, and other mottling aberrations form the meat of the matter. Butt Rash, for example, is a nasty red thing, while Tight Panties presents a more benign form of blotching. Many of the works have a convincing medical look, which appeals to very specific, perhaps fetishy tastes; others, such as Flesh Parade, exude a rich sense of abstraction that may increase when separated from their more scabrous siblings. Levy's perverse explorations have definite attraction and seem particularly fitting in this new venue, the initials of which reference the mysterious surgeon who formerly inhabited these quarters.
Clothing has served as an essential and rich subject in contemporary art. From Rosemarie Trockel's bizarre knit works to Christian Boltanski's massive installations of garments that are elegies to the Holocaust, clothing has communicated the substance of personae who lack explicit identities but are replete with connotative import. Elizabeth Jameson's strange and compelling drawings and sculptures carry out this means of expressing personal experience in visual terms that have remarkable universal resonance.
Pristine, white and feminine, Jameson's dresses embody the memory of female forms. Created in some shade of white, they initially allude to purity, innocence, and safety, and are suggestive of weddings, parties and the past. Yet, the figural shapes generally have some out-of-proportion feature that jars the senses Long Sleeves #2, with an oddly proportioned bodice and club-footed sleeves that rest on the same plane as the hem, has the feeling of an eccentric creature with long arm-like growths that support its very earthbound form. Jameson's concerns are expressed even more tangibly in Ice Dress, a snowy frock of cotton batting, which appears the picture of winter perfection, hanging on its hanger and antique metal support. But one can't ignore the continuous sleeves, which raise perturbing questions concerning the fate of the potential wearer's enclosed hands. Like, what are they to do? There is no egress except from the points of entry; no function for the fingers except to hold each other. In similar fashion, Safe and Warm? features out of scale sleeves, which here seem to descend for miles below the hem of the gown, suggesting ropes for gagging the wearer, binding a perpetrator, or possibly roping steers.
Jameson's charcoal drawings, such as Safety Dress #1, are rich and tactile, with deep, black lines and marks where the artist has worked her fingers into the outline while "fitting" the form. Another feature prevalent among the drawings is the hood worn by this figure, an intimidating Ku Klux Klan-like headcovering that suggests physical and psychological isolation and outlandish attempts at self-protection. in Cloak of Secrecy the exaggerated, profile presentation of the female figure is re-presented frontally, becoming a confection—a bride—in her full-length white hoop skirt. Yet, hooded and hidden, she becomes mute, hidden, sinister.
Sartorial Isolation is the pièce de a résistance, in part because of its huge scale, and in part because of the elaborate, Jules Verne-like helmet contraption with a breathing trumpet that hangs down like an elephant trunk and blank, mask-covered eyes. The surety of Jameson's line, which she has assertively weilded to create a bustled, silhouetted body, also suggests, in its exaggerated roundness, the hooded head of other works. Here, the places where Jameson dragged her fingers through the charcoal can be appreciated in a mark making context. Yet, on another level, the flat fingermarks across the rounded backside of the female form also imply spanking, punishment, and fear.
Strange and wonderful, deafening in their muffled existence, Jameson's sartorial objects and works on paper are most definitely worth contemplating.
Elizabeth Jameson—Fear and Sartorial Isolation closed October 24, 1998, at A.O.V., in San Francisco.
Terri Cohn is a contributing editor to Artweek.