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Brides of Frankenstein

by Marcia Tanner, Curator
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, U.S.A
31 July–30 October, 2005

Reviewed by Sonya Rapoport, Berkeley, California, U.S.A


Beverly Reiser, Oakland, California, U.S.A


Sonya Rapoport: After 200 years Dr Frankenstein must be turning in his grave as his harem of fifteen brides assemble to create new forms of life.

Beverly Reiser: I am still mulling over how this show is uniquely female.

SR: The video of the huge rose inviting us into the exhibition is certainly feminine.

BR Andrea Ackerman is the Georgia O'Keefe of the computer graphics world. Rose Breathing is an exquisitely composed opening and closing of a flower-like structure, easily the most sensuous and seductive piece in the show. Although artificial, this supremely organic structure embodies the artificial brought to life.

SR Gail Wight's Sirens' installation of large hybrid forms is soft and gentle.

BR: "The Sirens" is a comment on an organism's ability to adapt and survive, indicated in the notes on the wall. To successfully adapt to a hostile environment is not solely feminine but more often feminine than masculine. From the show's notes however, this adaptation may be a siren song because it lulls us into thinking that environmental degradation is benign when in fact it is ultimately malignant.

SR : Well, let's begin with what you like best.

BR: My favorite work, "Shaken," by Camille Utterback, is the snow dome with the little LCD screen inside, the playfulness of the figure becoming more agitated as you shake the dome, and motionless as you hold it still. Again the theme of human interference brings the artificial figure (woman) to life. The machine could be training us to engage in the specific behavior that needs to be activated. Maybe artificial life is bringing the organic (human) to life or at least motion.

SR: I see Shaken as a technically tweaked paperweight, comfortable in the hand and Christmas-like to the eye. It may have a message but I'm waiting for something more weighty.

BR: The black and white photos of robotic-like sculptures are caught in emotionally evocative poses. With wide eyed expression one sculpture is studying it's own hands as if to say look at these startling gadgets

SR .A bit of Hans Bellmer here. The structural coils remind me of the tortuous cosmetic ritual for lengthening female necks. My favorite piece is the video Dream of Beauty by Kirstin Geisler, an animated androgynous nude descending the Duchampion staircase.

BR: Impossibly idealized body form presented as an unattainable model for us all

SR The brochure notes "A tabula rasa awaiting the projections of others' fantasies." As the mannequin descends I see a stair section flashing between her upper thighs, suggesting the form of a penis.

BR Amy Myers' Fearful Symmetry, an almost symmetrical drawing of a mystical female icon, is elegant and abstract with scientific references. The style is very formal yet conveys continual flux.

SR: I wonder why she is in the show unless she is a collective portrait of the brides

BR: Heidi Kumao's "Resist" is a set of robotic legs (little girl size) with little girl shoes. A sound sensor activated by the visitor's voice brings the legs to life, pushing away from the viewer with great discomfort and defensiveness as if pulling away from an attack. It is one of the pieces that comes closest to the Frankenstein theme.

SR: This strong work is both cold and passionate.

BR: Erzsebet Baerveldt's 12 min. DVD "Pieta" makes reference both to Christian tradition and the Jewish folk legend of the golem. The Madonna as artist tries to bring a wet clay woman's body to life by manipulating its limbs. The video keeps looping her unsuccessful labors. The low res video magnifies the sense of eternal desolation and failure.

SR: The intense but not compassionate sculptor could have been Frankenstein himself.

BR: In the original novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein was plagued by remorse and guilt Ouch by Tamara Stone is about quilt and horror. The visitor moves through a galley of hanging stuffed rag bodies. Upon being touched the bodies emit "Ouch." The notes' promise of stories and songs would have added richness and complexity .

SR: State of the art technologies may give virtual life to the rag dolls, but Tony Oursler's low-tech doll installations communicate more succinctly.

BR: Eliza Redux: The Veils of Transference by Adrianne Wortzel is a visit to an artificial therapist's office. Is this a comment on psychotherapy or simply flaunting a clever computer program?

Eliza deserves a larger display

Conclusion: Brides of Frankenstein is an original and provocative exhibition that must have been as challenging to expedite as it is challenging to absorb.

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