A large fiberglass satellite dish sits on the floor of Fredric Snitzer's gallery in Coral Gables. Fourteen feet across and about three feet high, the old parabolic antenna that artist Mark Handforth found junked in a Hialeah yard makes for a formidable piece of furniture. Visitors to the dimly lit gallery must snake around the structure, backs to the wall, to get a good look at it. Better yet, the intrepid gallerygoer can sit on the rim of the dish -- an archaic model that's actually shaped like a huge bowl -- or slide down inside for a more extreme art experience (Handforth mischievously waxed the fiberglass surface to make it more slippery). The artist has enticingly tossed two pillows and a blanket inside the dish, along with some copies of National Geographic magazine. Stripped of its rigging and electronic components, the deactivated dish is transformed into a kind of new-age conversation pit for the Nineties.
This untitled installation, part of Snitzer's current Summer Invitational, would be an apt seating arrangement for an Internet coffee bar. Here, it becomes a rather provocative piece of conceptual art. Handforth, a London native who lives in Miami Beach, has a droll sense of humor and a penchant for work that begs for audience participation (his first local show, at the bygone Jason Rubell Gallery, featured a slew of candy-color sculptures in the shape of lifesavers that visitors to the space gleefully kicked about the floor like soccer balls).
In the gallery, the satellite dish transmits an absurd signal. By offering it for exhibit, the artist cheekily casts his unwieldy found object onto the established-art-world dump. The satellite dish joins the rest of the consumer society refuse that has found new life in Dada and surrealist junk sculpture and pop assemblages during the better part of this century.
Handforth literally trashes technology, and in doing so he raises a variety of contemporary issues. He turns an outdated satellite dish, an artifact of the communications revolution, into what he calls a "mini-amphitheatre," an acoustically sensitive gathering place that can be seen as a cozy update on the Sixties-style sunken living room. This is a campy idea, but it can provoke some serious meditation about technology's achievements and failures. Formally, the appearance of the dish in the center of the gallery is weird and unsettling, a revolutionary appliance that has already been cast aside, an end-of-the-century dinosaur even as the millennium approaches. Handforth has sanded and painted the center of the dish to give it a weathered, apocalyptic finish; it looks something like the inside of a crater.
By scattering copies of National Geographic in the dish, Handforth humorously suggests that, lounging inside the dead antenna and looking at pictures of foreign lands, one can absorb the same kind of information that is commonly exchanged through satellite television communications. Taking it further, the piece invokes the Luddite view that technology is no panacea for world discord. The citizens of the utopian global village haven't really been brought any closer because of one hundred-plus television channels; they've just become virtual voyeurs. The use of the magazines to make this point is an obvious device, but it is effective here, as is the piece on the whole. Funny and evocative, Handforth's not quite state-of-the-art readymade is a fitting Dada object for our times.
Beyond the dish, a group of mixed-media paintings by Emilio Perez hangs on the wall in the back of the gallery. Perez, age 24, recently graduated from the New World School of the Arts, and some of his works have a classroom theme. Mickey Monster is a diptych -- one half is painted on a chalkboard, the other half on wood. As the title suggests, the picture includes images of a malevolent Mickey. Both this work and Chilly Dilly -- also painted on chalkboard and wood -- juxtapose cartoonish figures, graffiti scribbles, and doodles with more painterly, abstract expressionist-style brushstrokes. Perez has a gifted hand and a good feel for his materials. These hectic high/low dyptichs are pleasing to look at, but Perez should have left the graffiti behind with his school days; his real talent is as an abstract painter. Untitled is the largest and also the most recent of the works included here. At once fierce and elegant, this painting on two different panels of wood teams graphite drawings with thick brushstrokes. But here, Perez has evolved. His furious layers of calligraphic markings form a geometric field that contrasts with and complements the softer flowerlike patterns of thick white paint. This more mature painting points to the promising direction Perez's work seems to be going.
While lounging in the satellite dish or standing in the front of the gallery, visitors can view Impersonation, a 16mm color film by Dara Friedman. Shown on a TV-size monitor, the six-minute movie features Friedman, Handforth (Friedman's husband), and another couple riding in a car. One by one and in pairs, they take turns singing Frankie Valli's 1975 schmaltzy pop hit "My Eyes Adored You." The singers sit in the back seat of the moving car while Friedman (or someone else, when she's the subject) holds the camera in the front seat. The song is repeated over and over. There's a brief interlude during which Friedman sings "O-o-h Child" by the Five Stairsteps, some off-screen giggling, and a little medley of rock instrumentals at the end. That's about it. Watching the singers flinch as they stare straight ahead with mock seriousness or look anywhere but at the camera and sing slightly off-key is somehow seductive at the same time that it's annoying, like a Top 40 radio song you can't help singing. (Warning: "My Eyes Adored You" will probably play in your head for the rest of the day after you walk out of the gallery).
The no-action style of Friedman's repetitive, "real-life" idyll is a staple of art films and video art, from Warhol on down. With a high production quality that's not grainy or shaky, Impersonation recalls numerous music videos by bands, famous and obscure, that have been shot in cars (Annie Lennox, Alanis Morissette, the Cars). The editing has a nice rhythm to it, and more than anything, in the context of this "Summer Invitational," the film recalls the pleasing monotony of road trips. Happy traveling.
1996 Summer Invitational. Through September 1 (July 18 through August 1, Friday and Saturday only or by appointment), at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, 1810 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Coral Gables; 448-8976.
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