By Elaine Wolff
Unlike the spring movie release Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mignon Harkrader's exhibit at Sala Diaz gallery, on view through July 11, suggests that the baggage of memories is unavoidable, but it needn't be devastating. Given that so many artists currently are working with themes and images involving the broken promises of the atomic age - our second age of enlightenment, which we've hardly had time to digest before embarking on the information age - it's worth asking whether Harkrader does it better than anyone else. The answer for this show, Double Life, is yes.
Whereas Rainey's entries in the group show 3 Pop Tarts at UTSA Satellite Space this past spring - which incorporated similar symbols and ideas - seemed stale and uninspired next to paintings by Ann-Michele Morales, Harkrader's surreally painted fabric, which cover the walls of the first room at Sala Diaz and a chair in the second, have an air of exploration and indeterminacy that keep them fresh. Pastel pinks and yellows are the background shades, the color of childhood promises made implicitly to young girls: of prince charming, domestic bliss, and feminine perfection. Indeterminate blobs of teal blue, mustard yellow, and red form inscrutable obstacles around and through which a variety of half-realized figures move.
Suits figure prominently: firemen, astronauts, women in high '50s/'60s style, and divers in gear navigate the gaseous landscape which is reminiscent of Salvador Dali's alternate universe. Each figure is encased in a type of armor that confers identity and offers protection for navigating a potentially hostile environment.
Harkrader's explorers create a permeable boundary between the internal world of genetics and and the external world of status symbols, creating a malleable dialogue about nature versus nurture; the necessity of socialization versus the harm it can also cause. In the most striking wall panel, divers with flippers and air tanks follow a rising trail of red blood platelets, which are in turn mirrored by a matching red luggage set. Across the room, more heavily equipped figures explore what looks like a giant coral formation, in which skyscrapers, office furniture, and other accoutrements of our 20th century aspirations form the old, encrusted shells of the reef. This possible reading, interestingly, makes sculptor Joel Morrison's work `see "Middle of the road," May 13-19, 2004`, pieces of which can still be found at Finesilver Gallery, more interesting.
Sexual symbols and timepieces - more echoes of Dali - also float throughout the work. Disembodied phalluses and reproductive organs strike the hour on the biological clock, which is in turn being tooled with by the residue of the post-World War II chemical revolution.
Gallery director Hills Snyder's hyper-verbal press release promises that the painted fabric in the first room will "implode in the second," which turns out to mean that Harkrader has upholstered a traditional father's chair - the sort in which Ozzie Nelson would rest his tired, loafer-wearin' feet after a hard day at the office. On the back rest, in fact, the ghost of a man sits with loosened tie, while more timepiece images hover nearby. On the seat is a giant set of orange lips, the placement of which is ripe for interpretation. A large image on the back of the chair seems important, but it is less well-articulated than most of the rest of the work, and so, hard to read.
Double Life as a whole, though, is strong because it leaves the door open for the viewer's interpretation to interact with the artist's inspiration, encouraging us all to consider our double lives as children of chance and engineering. •
By Elaine Wolff