Cutups

Anatomically incorrect works merge science and art.

Kari Marboe and Adrian Van Allen are inspired by
bones, flesh, and viscera. This may sound morbid nowadays, but for the
nearly four centuries between the Renaissance and Modernism, artists
were expected to know the anatomical facts of life and thereby depict
the human condition with gravitas — to follow Leonardo,
who performed secret dissections (and wrote backward, as if that would
have fooled the inquisitors), and Vesalius, who published woodcuts of
dissected figures posed like classic statues: scientific versions of
the satyr Marsyas, flayed by Apollo over artistic hubris. Marboe’s
Medical Narratives are comprised of sculptures accompanied by
text. The sealed glass cubes with their alcohol-bathed sheep/cow organs
may suggest Damien Hirst’s slice-of-life sensationalism, but here the
brain, eye, heart, lungs, kidney, and ovary are intact and isolated, as
if for scientific analysis or aesthetic delectation. “Kidney” is indeed
quite beautiful and funny, with its submerged bean/potato sprouting a
snorkel. The tabloid narratives further emphasize the absurd side of
human vulnerability: a psychotic inmate eats his eyes; a man married to
the wife of his heart donor shoots himself, as his donor did; a fir
tree is found growing in a man’s lung. Also shown are painted ceramic
reliefs set on wooden panels, medical retablos, illustrating
Aunt Jane’s appendectomy, Marboe’s ovarian cyst, sister Elinor’s leg
wound, and cousin Joby’s root canal: with its nerves removed, Joby
writes, “We have drifted apart, unable to communicate. It’s just a
lodger now. An empty, soulless stranger in my mouth. An enamel
gravestone.” Van Allen plays with morphology and taxonomy, constructing
“a personal zoo” of biological curiosities from old skeletal diagrams
that she reassembles through collage and prints atop Geological Survey
map fragments, suggesting paleontological digs and maybe, considering
her faux museology, ontological gags, too. The title, Natura
Historia (Revised)
, refers to the encyclopedic amalgam of fact and
fiction compiled by the Roman scientist Pliny the Elder (who died
studying the erupting Vesuvius in 79 AD), and perhaps to Surrealist Max
Ernst’s eponymous book of collage/frottage works. Pliny proposed an
early method of classifying animals based on modes of locomotion, with
chickens and kiwis (yum) darting and flapping, otters scurrying, and
weasels scampering; Van Allen’s hybrids are organized along functional
lines as well: a giant Megatherium sloth has the webbed, clawed feet of
a mole or penguin; a bison sports a mammoth’s head; a flying Draco
lizard gains additional life from a flatfish’s fine ribs; common
unicorn and uncommon otter co-exist. Anatomies runs
through August 3 at the Compound Gallery (6604 San Pablo Ave.,
Oakland). TheCompoundGallery.com or
510-655-9019

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