Things go great, we get cocky, and then the gods smite the economy. Works That Disturb the Moonlight, the poetic title of this show, invokes the shadow that underlies the daytime world and the rational mind, and it’s an apt description of the ethos of these eight young artists — Angie Crabtree, Julia C. S. Davis, Igor Josifov, Kadet Kuhne, Annie McKnight, Joshua Martinez, Maja Ruznic, and Kim Ye — who undoubtedly consider rationality of the Wall Street variety somewhat less grand than advertised.
In The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, Kenneth Clark examines how art embodies, variously, beauty, energy, pathos, and ecstasy; he also describes a recurrent alternative tradition representing human bodies as “pale, defenseless, [and] un-self-supporting,” like “roots and bulbs, pulled up into the light.” In this show, human beings here are immobilized or ambiguous, and intellectual hierarchies are toppled. Crabtree makes graphite renderings on gray-toned pastel paper or canvas depicting deformed babies (conjoined twins like Mahmoud and Hassein or Vanni and Veena) merged with cacti or carnivorous plants that loom like phallic mushrooms or leafy foreskins. Her equally provocative installation, “Crucified in Comfort,” surrounds a sprawling male, naked but for sweatsocks, with a half-dozen attendant oxen, their heads replaced by heart-shaped pairs of antler-like spiked leaves.
Davis takes similar freedoms with biology in her specimen photographs of dead animals (“Posterior, inert Balaenoptera musculus “) and live humans (“Seated zoetic Homo Sapiens”). McKnight crafts a pair of necklaces from preserved mouse bodies. Ruznic makes small paintings in oil on panel that depict round-headed, gnomelike figures (seven of which she has entitled “Bastards”) in a painterly, expressionist style that partially obscures the figures but also renders them mysterious: The protagonist of “The Infinite Secret” (or “The Infinite Search”) is spiderlike in form, or wears a costume or disguise — it’s impossible to say. The prostrate figure in “Tired II” is similarly ambiguous, suggesting duck or insect; and Ruznic’s ink drawings of groups are given mordant titles like “The Family” and “Our Secret.”
Ye’s latex and cloth figure sculptures (which are also costumes worn in performances) make a commandingly creepy, Cronenbergian statement: half garment and half cast skin, with scarred/wealed flesh, lumpy ganglions, intestinal tentacles/prostheses, and clustered eggs/turds/antibodies, they update the surrealist wardrobe’s toed shoes and breasted nighties for the Burrovian Interzone age of iPod people interfacing with their talking insect-typewriters. Works That Disturb the Moonlight runs through March 27 at Alphonse Berber Gallery (2546 Bancroft Way, Berkeley). 510-649-9492 or AlphonseBerber.com