ART REVIEW By D. Eric Bookhardt 04 19 05

From Myths to Mutants

WHAT: The Hybrid: Multimedia group exhibition
WHEN: Through May 21
WHERE: Palma Gallery, 828 Howard Ave., 598-2276

Here's a handy word: "transmogrification." Simpler than it sounds, it means to change or alter in appearance, often to grotesque effect, according to Webster. Transmogrification used to be a lot more common in the days of myths and fairy tales when frogs could change into princes and back again, and minotaurs and cyclops roamed the nether regions of the realm. The rise of science gradually banished such things to the hinterlands of fantasy, at least until the 1990s, when genetic engineering took off in a big way, returning us to a mythic, fairy tale world of strange transgenic hybrids.

But art had taken up the slack all along, and The Hybrid, a group survey show curated by Matteo Neivert, explores what that word really means to some 18 mostly local artists. Of course, in a city where Mardi Gras is an annual celebration of mutation, it is not an unfamiliar concept. Among the unusual permutations, Sibylle Peretti's Child With Fawn is a quietly surreal presence. Touching on her usual themes of childhood and animals, birth and innocence, Fawn is a dreamlike view of an infant and a fawn in a kind of amniotic bubble, a womblike alcove of the imagination, all finely drawn to yield Peretti's signature blend of hauntingly psychological surreality.

Not far away is Veronica Leandrez's Ocular Hypertension painting of two human figures. One suggests a Conte crayon drawing of an indistinctly rounded form, but the other figure is polymorphous, suggesting either a foetus, heart valve or other obscure body part sprouting a sketchy human head. It's almost as if someone tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together from the body parts in a gory Francis Bacon painting, but Leandrez is subtler than Bacon and in some ways more convincing.

Further adventures in biology appear in Beth Dary's Merge, a kind of white-on-white aureole of something like bubbles in egg tempera on pale translucent paper. Bubbles, or maybe fish eggs -- they glisten and look oddly fertile. Her wire sculptures, Verge and Valence, suggest old Slinky toys bulked up on steroids trying to impersonate obscure vital organs. Weirdly evocative stuff. But biology -- and everything else -- takes a walk on the wild side in Myrtle von Damitz's remarkably detailed ink paintings. Saturnid Picnic depicts an otherworldly scene in some other space-time where wraithlike entities go about their business in a cubist hall of mirrors, a soft-tissue echo chamber in a familiar if alien universe. (This may be what Max Ernst's old squeeze, Dorothea Tanning, was trying to do in her airless 1950s canvases, but von Damitz does it better.)

Jessica Goldfinch is likewise known for spatio-temporal slight of hand, bell jars with surgical stitches sewn up with thin copper wire and the like. Here she is represented with a grid of little boxed biological curiosities, skeletons sprouting stag horns and such, but her most effective piece may be the simplest, a pink, translucent and mysteriously luminous resin apple, Eve's Temptation. And while Teri Walker is known in craft circles as a virtuoso manipulator of molten glass, her Spiderman Habitat of humanoid spiders in a freestanding maze of metal webbing is a mythic mini-ecosystem in its own right. On the other hand, Shae O'Brien's The Truth About Myth, a cast metal trophy of a skinned stag head with bulging eyes and antlers sprouting gems like tiny flowers, only raises questions. As in traditional surrealism, this otherworldly beast is a dream state made visible, an animal trophy from the Twilight Zone. But in Audra Kohout's First Kiss Waltz, it's a woman (cobbled from doll parts) who wears the antlers, as she engages another doll woman in an intimate encounter. Kohout employs the shamanic art of found object sculpture in little box tableaux like intimate stage sets where orphaned objects assume new lives as agents of psychic intrigue. You can almost imagine them coming to life at night like automatons in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, acting out ribald scenes in an opera of their own design. Is Kohout using them or are they using her? It may amount to the same thing. The more convincing hybrids in this show often appear to lead lives of their own in a realm where myth, science and fantasy all conspire in nihilistic collusion. Welcome to the future.