by Bill Lasarow
(CSU Bakersfield, Todd Madigan Gallery, Bakersfield) It has always been a wonderful quality: Arts capacity to emerge out of the most personal, yes, trivial sources, and to afford us fresh visual experience that also illuminates Big Questions. Vida Hackman translates an obsession with birds, childhood memories, and the ambience of Californias enormous San Joaquin Valley into exceptionally fascinating and moving art. This survey of her work done since the early 1980s features a central cast including ravens, doves, crows, jackdaws, ducks--and those are just the birds.
Two-dimensional studies--paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs--express formal examination of favored subjects, but a deeply internal and symbolic connection to them as well. Some of this material ultimately found its way into the central constructions that crucially lift Hackmans body of work out of the ordinary. Squire Ravens Boat and Dinghy for Squire Ravens Boat are at once odd contraptions and stately funerary vessels--they are both puzzling and illuminating. And, happily, they provide the kind of visual stimulation via their rich detail that is formally well balanced and organized.
Hackman has at least toyed with the idea of a performance in which she sails her art down the Kern River (a short distance from her studio), making it clear that ancient Egypt plays upon her imagination. The Kern becomes the Nile; her bird subjects become Horus, a god portrayed as a hawk. But beyond the nobility implied by such associations, the animals are pathetic. A seminal fragment of the Boat is an image of a crow that is imbedded with numerous porcupine quills (Crow-Quilled ). The protective and transformative coat covers one side of the creature; the other side exposes the bird to be a hunters decoy.
The implications of this are very much a part of the artists intent; as a child she regularly went on family hunting trips on which she was both drawn to and repulsed by the lures and other devices by which birds and fish were captured, slaughtered, and finally consumed by the family. In playing out these early experiences more profound issues are massaged from the images now metaphorical existence: Longing and loss; power and vulnerability; the real and the apparent. Look at one side of Crowquilled, then the other. Then try wrestling with these conundrums. This two-sided quasi-bird will stick in your mind, a bookmark to remind you of your place as you repeatedly ponder.
Dry Docked Dinghy for Squire
Raven's Boat", mixed media photo
construction, 27 x 9 x 9", 1998.
Squire Raven's Boat", photo-collaged
construction, 68 x 48 x 36", 1994.
Lazarus", mixed media, 1988.
Art Tongue-Tied by Authority,