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Monday 02.05.07

« Things to do this week: | Main | Not everyone is a critic »

Voodoo Hymn and Primal Anecdote: Zen Parry at Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery

"Engagement: White Light" Zen Parry at Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery

The Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery ups their own pretty ante this month, expounding even further on the definitions and boundaries of the terms "arts" and "crafts" and asking (not so politely) for the rest of Portland to mosey on up to the bar. Granted, the CCM&G does this in most of their shows, yet, this month the craft aspect of the show truly hauls itself full force into the gooey realm of fine art with Zen Parry's "Engagement: White Light". Parry's space of quilted plastic, vaccuum packed equine skulls, and taxidermied game fowl are quite the existential and formal leap from much of the CCM&G's past exhibitions as Parry's "craft" and technical prowess are indeed, not fanning their tail feathers in puffed grandeur. In fact, much of Parry's installation is rather difficult to see, visible only through the brief pop of a rhythmic strobe. Bits of this pulsing menace filter through the black cloth walls of the piece and serve as the first eerie hint of what awaits inside.

Upon entering, all is bathed in a darkroom red, save, of course, for the tenth of a second when the room is illuminated by the strobe. This dual light dynamic creates a strange sort of growing effect on the objects in the room, and the room starts to seethe and breathe. After overcoming the bit of vertigo brought on by this effect, the objects in the room become distinguishable. An array of various animal bones, blown glass infants and innards, religious iconography, a collection of bizarre dolls, taxidermied and mummified birds and cats, television monitors, and woven plastic rugs and quilts have been arranged purposefully around the space. The overarching thematic binder in the midst of all of this surreal paraphernalia is the element of plastic. Almost every object in Parry's space has been shrinkwrapped; a false mock goo covers everything, feigning ectoplasm and -ed. At once reminiscent of both low budget horror movie and swarthy Santeria den, these objects seem ripe symbols of spirituality, decay, and the body's very tactile ability to access the metaphysical. As a migraine sufferer myself, the effect of all of this was one of woozy and nausea, however, deciding that this would only further my experience of Parry's installation, I forced myself to continue investigating Parry's unique language.

"Engagement: White Light" Zen Parry at Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery

According to the artist, her intention is to target the very tactile symbols of immediacy, disposal, convenience, and artificiality of American culture while coincidentally accessing each viewers notion of the spiritual, encountered in the witnessing of both life and death. The plastic, she believes, is the screaming symbol of our very American obsession with convenience and disposal, and the television monitors are intended to represent our voracious and insatiable infatuation with the lovely boob tube as it sucks away hours of our precious time and, according to Parry, brings the body and spirit that much closer to death. In her arrangement of the space she urges us to think cycle and transcendence through sudden epiphanies within certain stages of life and eventually, death.

However, herein lies the beauty and magic of art; with Parry's intention and energetic efforts, this installation came to fruition. Yet, there is not a shred of the America of which Parry speaks in "Engagement: White Light". In fact, this installation is much more interesting than the hackneyed discussion of how Americans are overconsumptive, lazy, and media obsessed. In the wonderful world of art, A + B does not always equal C, and here the case exhibits itself beautifully as the world of words and visions do not at all collide, defiantly claiming their own territory: if one describes an experience or persona as "plastic", the meaning derived is one of artifice. Yet, if one takes the material of plastic and does something sculptural with it, the meaning conveyed depends, of course, on the way in which the material has been used. Alas, failure and triumph. Parry's piece does not speak of a plastic America. Western cultures of course are present, yet, the installation prevails as the recreation of the place where the physical and metaphysical meet . Parry urges visitors to touch the objects they encounter, to study them closely and feel the weight of each piece as it differs from another as well as from the body. Balance and coordination are difficult inside, and brain waves and heartbeats do not coincide with the rhythm of the strobe. The essence of the existential is palpable. The America Parry describes is one that is out of touch with the spiritual realm. As we glut ourselves on the fleeting pleasures of the corporeal, our familiarity with the realm of the spirit diminishes. The thought of the destruction of the body, as in death or decay, becomes something frightening and strange. The notion of death here is impending and perhaps even violent. This death is not an agnes martin death but more a death of uncomfortable and disconnected parts, a death Sartre and Kafka would know intimately. Thus, it is Parry's intention that transcends the failure of her plotted language. The happening and event of art prevails over the execution of the artist's design, and suddenly the formula resonates with its own identity on its own ground. "Engagement: White Light" is failure and transcendence within its own walls, heralding more the possibility of art as it stands on its own than the manifesto of its maker.

Posted by Amy Bernstein on February 05, 2007 at 17:39 | Comments (1)


I'm inherently suspicious of any art installation that involves dolls, glittery stuff, bones and strobe lights... the language of those halloween haunted houses.

Still, I have to go back and have another look. I liked it as an experience but need to spend a little more time with it. At the opening there were too many people... increasingly Ive come to believe that one cant really review a show if they only go to the opening. Amy visited this weeks after the opening.

Also, this is the final show for the gallery before the big move so I suggest everyone go see it.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 7, 2007 10:46 AM

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