Song of the Earth

Two artists examine nature through technology.

A century after abstraction supplanted the mimetic (i.e. realistic)
basis of representational art, and fifty years after the advent of an
increasingly pervasive media counter-reality, the idea of representing
nature seems almost hopelessly anachronistic — and, therefore,
perhaps, timely. (Let’s hope it’s not just futilely compensatory
scrapbooking while the world burns.) In Earth Engines,
two versatile multimedia artists inspired by the great outdoors create
contemporary art about the given world.

Barry Underwood describes his surreal color photographs as
documentations of “dioramas and full-scale installations [that he
fabricates, exploring the] issues of imagination, narrative and the
potential of the ordinary … [through the prisms of] contemporary
paintings, cinema and land art.” His long-exposure photographs depict
enigmatic, even paranormal, phenomena set in stunning landscapes espied
at the golden hour of dusk, and are thus “cross-pollination[s] between
traditional photography and theater,” the Sierra-Club purism of Ansel
Adams and Eliot Porter enriched with the “intrusions and interventions”
of John Divola and Andy Goldsworthy. In “Rodeo Beach,” black rocky
crags rise from vaporous (time-exposed) waters as if in a Chinese
painting, while, on the beach, electric yellow rings hover like
fireflies, emitting glowing red halations. In “Fishes II,” the still
dark green waters reveal a circle of yellow lights or bubbles; yellow
light-mists appear beneath the grasses of a mountain meadow in “Norquay
(Yellow)” and below the exposed roots of trees in “Bow Falls” and
“Aurora (Green)”; in “Trace (Blue),” brilliant blue icicles/stalagmites
rise from the water; in “Line (Yellow),” a yellow Roman-candle-ish
“zip” stands athwart a trail, spitting sparks.

Oliver DiCicco is a sound recorder and musician who crafts
nontraditional musical instruments (e.g., Trylon, Oove, Picocaster, and
Crawdad) that engage both eye and ear, in the tradition of the musical
visionary, Harry Partch. A rowing aficionado, DiCicco is showing two
kinetic sculptures inspired by “the ribs of a ship, the motion of
waves, the song of the whale, kelp swaying in the infinite ebb and
flow.” The larger piece, “Sirens,” is a chain of oscillating steel
wishbone structures that suggest tuning forks and gigantic whale
vertebrae; the breathy flutelike sounds emanating from their rocking
motion reinforce both interpretations — along with the
Bobbing-Bird oil pumps of Southern California and beckoning
mythological mermaids. DiCicco’s smaller piece, “Anemone,” a ring of
humming/clattering metal rods oscillated by a motor, imitates the
swaying tentacles of those plantlike marine filter-feeding animals. A
rare performance by DiCicco’s ensemble, Moebius Operandi, takes place
Saturday, December 12, at 6 p.m. Earth Engines runs through
January 9 at Johansson Projects (2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland).
JohanssonProjects.com or
510-444-9140

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