Cathy de Monchaux's work at Damien B

About the District

Damien B: "Sweetly the Air Flew Overhead," by Cathy de Monchaux, with musicians Martyn Ware and Vince Clarke and philosopher Theodore Zeldin. Through January 2.

The installation's glowing celestial lights emanating from Damien B called to the pedestrian traffic making their Basel rounds on the Art Loves Design Thursday night. This at-once ethereal space sucks you into a slow vacuum of swirling sound and white-on-white metaphors of repressed inner turmoil. Controlled but tangled in dusty patina tendrils of pubic hairlike growths, two armies amass -- two halves of one self in mortal confrontation that will yield nary a one victorious. Toiling little "fetishes" spar fearlessly with empty corners. It's replete with feminine gashes anatomically correct and symbolic, moving sounds, words, phrases -- "Did I remember to tell you I love you" -- in alternating cadences. A repertoire of emotional aural ranges eddies clockwise and counterclockwise at once. Bats with erections. Yes, bats with erections -- bloodsucking males? "Sweetly the Air Flew Overhead" is exquisitely executed and utterly disturbing. It draws you inward and stays on your mind like an excellent foreign film -- no Hollywood ending here.

A little background: Cathy de Monchaux was born in London, has exhibited internationally, and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1998. Martyn Ware and Vince Clarke were members of Heaven 17, Human League, and Erasure. They are the creators of "Heightened Reality," the 3-D surround sound technology used in this installation. Theodore Zeldin has written such books as An Intimate History of Humanity.

Casas Riegner Gallery: "The Fixer" by Arnaldo Morales, through January 17.

In contrast to "Sweetly the Air Flew Overhead," Arnaldo Morales's "The Fixer" provides an opportunity to interact. Perhaps you remember Morales from last year's Basel, his tech-obsessed creations playful and wicked -- the whipping machine titled Goyan #99-02 and the over-the-belt vibrator named Strap-On #00? Morales makes powerful machine playthings that provide outlets for those willing to "strap it on" and break out, venturing into the land of personal suppressed emotions and behaviors. From behind these deafening pneumatic interactive objects, the participants and the artist himself engage in a playfulness that is both an adventure in experimentation and teasingly borderline sadistic. "Machines are powerful symbols of our quest for emotional meaning," Morales writes in an artist's statement. On this night he swings the handlebars of "The Fixer" and its three-foot metal meat hook and looms toward the group that has formed around the thunderous kinetic sculpture. He pushes switches and levers and smiles as the hook jabs the air, inches from gallerygoers' noses.

Objex Art Space: "Life Among the Ruins," by Bask and Tom Thewes, Jr., through December 31.

At this two-person exhibition at Objex, you have to get mighty close to the work of Thewes to discern the detritus material the exhibition title refers to as ruin. Beneath the pigment, staples lay like sutures joining the fractured portrayal of superheroes and other unlikely characters. Other occulted materials include Grandma's cedar closet, candy wrappers, screws, and asphalt. The imagery is very intricate, action packed, as diagonal lines cut across the depictions reminiscent of early Cubism. Of note is Blood Right, a portrait of a Christ-like figure sporting a crown of syringes and a torturous gaze.

Bask's mixed-media contributions are an intersection of pop culture iconography with a formal structure that seems a bit out of place considering the media -- blackboards, street signs, pages of porno. The pornography pages serve as a luscious backdrop to Meat Market, a piece that is emblazoned with a Now Hiring ad and offers of a daily dose of misogyny. For all the urban refuse used in these works, the pieces are aesthetically clean; you could call them sophisticated detritus.

Diaspora Vibe Gallery: "Strata: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," a group show of various artists, through January 28.

There was so much visual cacophony at this exhibition, it was more reminiscent of a street fair than an art show. The artworks were very close together and all were screaming for attention. The title may have resonance with a few of the pieces curated for this exhibition, like James Kilpatrick's wooden furniture made of found boards, antique latches, and hardware that he collects in his travels. Also in Erman's work, time-encapsulated shadow boxes filled with fashionable attire from days gone by; and in Nina Surel's floor-to-ceiling panels, depicting childhood-to-adulthood motifs. But other works fall short of expressing a relevancy. The Diaspora Vibe Gallery's mission is an admirable one and they should be commended for their work thus far. It's crucial to remember, however, that the artwork itself is the most important item in an art gallery, even if the "Diaspora" component is your namesake.


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