The comedian/actor Will Rogers once dismissed communism as “one-third practice and two-thirds explanation.” One might similarly criticize a fair amount of contemporary art that is conceptual rather than visual in its orientation, thus requiring some explanation on behalf of viewers. The idea that priorities are askew is especially problematic when the verbiage seems unsupported by the artwork, or inflated. Fortunately, some visual art still communicates without benefit of art clergy. The witty low-tech sculptures of Ross Campbell and Jeremiah Jenkins at Hatch Gallery suggest the pop artist Claes Oldenbourg’s absurdism, but updated to the mediasphere age; replacing the sagging anthropomorphic vinyl appliances is a sophisticated comedy of mixed signals and mixed-up symbols.
Campbell plays with language and symbols. “0-1” is a nonsequential group of color photographs of large, weathered plywood signs bearing crudely painted numbers. A series of carved Bitype woodblocks and prints explores the dot-matrix or LED font’s bricklike patterns as architectural or sculptural elements. In “Ceremonial Masks,” he constructs three-dimensional life-size masks from black, white, and gray cubes, probably patterned after the crudely pixelated 3-D forms in old video or computer games. Elements of that same airless, virtual world take form in wood and spray-painted cardboard in variously sized trees, shrubs, and bushes, their foliage rendered in sawtooth-edged green planes.
Jenkins is interested in how tools and hardware reflect human psychology. “Antlertenna” is an array of television set receivers, the telescoping metal rabbit ears replaced by deer antlers, and the circular wires transformed into halos or empty caption balloons. Floppy disks made of wood and a Swiss Army knife made of cardboard frustrate use, while a credit card transforms into a mousetrap, and the bristles of a woman’s hairbrush soften and lengthen into brunette tresses. Arrowheads evolve into delta-winged and swept-wing fighter planes, a camera grows a pistol grip and trigger, baseballs morph into grenades, and bullets are engraved with comic-book sound effects.
Particularly poignant these days are cardboard models of makeshift housing, “Architectural Model of a Homeless Shelter” and “Architectural Model of Shantytown Home for Six”: miniature George Segal tableaux graced by tiny figures like the shoppers strolling through renderings of proposed buildings, but whitened and ghostly. Plot runs through January 29 at Hatch Gallery (492-23rd St., Oakland). HatchGallery.org