Subliminal advertising imagery includes the anxiety-producing skull hidden in ice cubes that sells scotch; the phallic face of Joe Camel; and the word DemocRATS flashed for 1/100 second on Rove’s TV. Liminality is the condition of postmodern contemporary culture in which systems of thought mix and interpenetrate, creating new hybrids. Thus, Circumscribing the Liminal, a group show featuring photographs by Naaman Rosen and videos by both Teresa Cunniff and Malak Helmy, has a somewhat paradoxical title, even as it maps out the current boundaries of perception, memory, and representation. In this liminal limbo, the mundane and the sacred are equivalent and complementary. In 2010, Rosen, driving cross-country, stayed at inexpensive and decidedly un-scenic Kampground of America tent camps, but his square-format black-and-white photos capture the homespun roadside poetry of syrup pitchers, volleyball nets, miniature-golf courses, playgrounds, trailers, shower stalls, swimming pools, and the like.
Helmy’s videos, “Some Parks That Rhyme and Don’t,” “Het Broot,” “Notes from the Carbon Coast,” and “Statement from the Compound,” take a similarly deadpan approach, imposing new, perhaps arbitrary, interpretations on footage taken in her native Egypt. Cuniff’s video, “Animal Bardo,” posits a spiritual plane inhabited by extinct animals unable to reincarnate; cloudy, obscured footage of waves is accompanied by animal vocalizations (perhaps digitally enhanced) and punctuated by floating circles; it’s compelling and hypnotic, perhaps even addictive. Circumscribing the Liminal runs through June 18 at Krowswork Gallery (480 23rd St., Oakland). 510-229-7035 or Krowswork.com.
Julianne Wallace Sterling follows last year’s mommy-themed domestic-goddess show with Pushing Fairy Tales, two rooms of mixed-media works depicting: solitary women in slips and panties, enacting dramas combining preteen Disney cartoon fantasy (chirping bluebird attendants in “little glass houses,” skirts brimming with wildflowers in “Madonna of the lipgloss”); the real-life roles of woman, wife, and mother; and (quoting the artist’s statement) the “little secrets women keep to themselves. As Cornelia Otis Skinner said, ‘Women keep a special corner of their hearts for sins they have never committed.'” (Sure beats career-destroying sexting.) Post-subliminal M/R-rated works like “feeling for the exit” and “these heels were made for …” will surely set male hearts aflutter; some of the small, untitled pieces — yowsah! — may even provoke textual intercourse, if not outright sexual congress. Pushing Fairy Tales runs (along with Less Than Large, small works by other gallery artists) through June 25 at Mercury 20 Gallery (475 25th St., Oakland). 510-701-4620 or MercuryTwenty.com