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September 16 - October 28, 2006 at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art, Santa Monica

by Suvan Geer

It has always seemed that Sarah Perry’s amazing art objects fashioned from scraps of weathered desert refuse and different kinds of bleached bone would have been right at home in 17th century wonder-rooms or curiosity cabinets.  Those were eclectic collections of amazing things often as much a tangible, natural fact as a carefully crafted believable fiction.  What better way to describe this show’s bell jar miniature of a cyclone meticulously shaped from hundreds of tiny white rodent bones?  The piece has a strange, impossible reality to it.  As the writhing form tapers to a delicate point at the bottom it seems to magnetically summon other bones dusting the canister floor.  At the same time it seems to swirl and press up against the glass lid like a skeletal filigree of congealing cloud; an impossibly trapped, still-living storm.

With the “Twister” tornado the artist plays masterfully with the archetypal awe and wonder humankind still feels in the face of nature’s vast forces. There is a similar emotional prod but less of a visual thrill to “Tree of Heaven,” a displayed branch of a tree holding out a stray, upturned hat that has a miraculous bird’s nest crèche slipped into it as if if were a Raven’s stolen prize.  By giving a scientific gloss to what amounts to a mythic speculation, Perry makes an innocent looking icon of willed belief that feels like it belongs in the secret archives of a religious cult or the cases of our own Museum of Jurassic Technology.  

In many of the pieces for this exhibit the artist uses various decayed objects to suggest what cannot be seen but only felt.  It makes for a fascinating study on the tangibility of memory and the overwhelming presence of the invisible.  Most stirring is “The Joy of Finding Things Out,” a highly detailed microscopic enlargement of a piece of something clearly organic that has been delicately scraped with dental tools into the hard, black surface of a child’s old slate chalkboard.  From the beauty of her etched drawing of a texture too small to be seen with the naked eye to the wincing sound our mind fills in for us just imaging how it was inscribed, the artist fills the piece with a contagious, playful enthusiasm for what is invisible but still present in the world surrounding us.

A different kind of contagion haunts Adonna Khare’s tender graphite on paper drawings of strange wild animals. Underlying the Hieronymus Bosh meets Maurice Sendak fantasy of her beasts is a heartfelt sense of unnatural aberration afflicting the natural world.

Sarah Perry, "Twister," 2005, bones,
glass, glue, & sealant, 14 x 7 x 7".

Sarah Perry, "Tree of Heaven," 2005,
branch, hat, grasses, hair, cloth, egg,
steel, wood, clay, 24 x 15 x 14".

Sarah Perry, "I Can't Hear You Any
Longer," 2004, clay polymer, hair,
steel, wood, glass, acrylic, patinas,
sealants, 12 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2".

Sarah Perry, "Heart Murmur" and
"Forever Leaving" diptych, 2006
bone, steel, pigeon feet, acrylic,
wood, 12 x 12 x 1.5" each .

Entitled “Chimerical,” the remarkably quiet drawings from this series suggest an unspecific history of mythological monsters; animals with the head of one species and the body or tail of another.  But Khare’s animals are not the terrifying, monstrous animal hybrids that myths created to symbolize and codify humanity’s fears of the exotic and a hostile natural world.  They are instead the almost tame, confined and depressed animals we know from the city zoo.  Khare draws them as delightfully familiar, but what they suggest is still the stuff of nightmares.

Adonna Khare,"The Bear", 2005,
carbon pencil on paper, 42 x 81".

Adonna Khare,"Elk", 2005,
carbon pencil on paper 9 x 12".
In one of her drawings, an odd spindly "Elk" looks like it’s being irritated by a pear stuck to a saddle and strapped to its back.  The creature also sports the long gossamer wings of an insect.  In another image an intently focused "Giraffe," with male genitals and two dangling female breasts stands poised on two human legs like a gymnast on a balance beam.  

The animals in Khare’s drawings are, as Jorge Luis Borges said of the dragon in his text “The Book of Imaginary Beings,” mankind’s ‘necessary monsters’ whose meaning is determined by makers who hang their fears and dreams on them.  With their odd growths, constricting bandages or backpacks of stray eggs and restrictively tethered mismatched anatomies, these imaginary animals suggest real but weird beasts and plants.  Of course, science has produced its own strange hybrids, such as a genetically engineered rabbit, to which was added with deep sea octopus DNA, that glows in the dark; or the new hybrid corn containing animal DNA spliced from viable gene fragments.  Silently enduring, these mythic beasts congregate in “The Bear,” the largest drawing here, which powerfully also suggests the last triptych panel of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.”  Only in Khare’s image the cautionary perils of rampant sensuality have been replaced by human indifference and the hubris of science.