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"ACTION STATION: EXPLORING OPEN SYSTEMS"

[1] [2]

(1) Carol Szymanski, "How" (Hau), brass, 9 x 12 x 7", 1995.
(2) Angie Bray, "Untitled" (Handle With Care), linen/mohair/basswood, 11 x 8 x 8", 1995.

by Isabel Anderson

(Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica) (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica) "Action Station" is art without a recipe. The ingredients are provided and may be beautiful to contemplate, but you'll have more fun if you are willing to mix things up and light the oven. Not that the art is in any way shapeless or indeterminate, but the experience will yield more if you take the initiative and don't sit back passively hoping it will come to you on a platter. Exhibition curator Sue Spaid is interested in "That point where the artist gives up authorship and allows the viewer to participate in the creation of meaning."

The work tends to be grouped thematically into areas of language games, the development of personal experience, and a space--called "The Romper Room"--devoted to artists' play. The objects and installations run the gamut from clear to enigmatic, which is what Maura Bendett does in her two works. The first is a stack of shakable papier maché beach balls with bb's inside; the other is a series of floating skirted platforms. One of Toby Mott's sculptures can be played with and turned into anything from an undersea creature to a demented chandelier. The quality of play is alive throughout the exhibition. One of the most captivating examples is Lun*na Menoh's trio of columnar, shimmering dresses, transparent fabric constuctions. Their suggestion of male or female forms, which can be tried on, may transport you to the child-like state before gender identity was fixed. These are a paradigm for many of the other works on exhibit--definitely objects, but soft, impermanent. Menoh's Wearable Wall possesses armholes fitted with sleeves--a man's suit sleeve, a romantic puff sleeve, and a long one of black velvet--to encourage fantasy. As people put their arms into the sleeves through the red fabric openings on one side, they seem to be liberated to gesture theatrically, as if touched by un- seen entities on the other side. It is inviting and humorous, and it is surely one of the most vivid pieces here.

Terri Friedman's Gifted and Clairvoyant, a fountain "kit" with many possible variations, glows with sparkling fluid. Caren Furbeyre's geometric acrylic scuplture dematerializes into color at its edges, questioning perception. Rory Devine's overflowing wall painting with a flashing light bulb alters perception, while Angie Bray's construction of fine, gently waving, snapping day-glo rods sprout from a green floor like manifestations of pure energy.

For some viewers, the language games will be the most stimulating elements in the show. Carol Szyman-ski's horns have been shaped into visual forms which evoke elements of language, and are embodiments of the musical equivalents of phonemes. Patrizia Giambi's typewriter, which produces images of lip positions used in forming sound, and deaf artist Joseph Grigley's quiet, contemplative wall of communications are implicitly related to one another. In this area various Fluxus works, selected for their unrepeatable outcomes, or because they are records of absurdist undertakings, give context to the curator's thesis. Yoko Ono's work on paper, Just Color, is a sixties record of a Fluxus event. Robert Filliou's The Leeds Game comes in a beautifully crafted wood box--a serious object containing directions for an impossible-to-play card game.

The exhibition is described by the curator as a project which embodies the essence of a feminist perspective on art and life. Rather than present resolved situations, the intent is to give viewers an opportunity to complete each work. The artist's don't really give up authorship in this system, but neither do they assume a position of authority in some kind of art hierarchy. Each viewer response is as much the result of your own creativity in a deliberately open-ended situation and it is informed by the object.

Current issues of identity and the body are dealt with indirectly, within the arena of feminist discourse, but well beyond politics. Spaid poses this question: "What is feminism and how does it function in the world? In all these works there is a meta-message that deals with subjectivity and flexibility, mutability and fluidity," and there is no set answer. Instead we are asked to consider the many possible meanings each of us has the potential to create.