Art is like coffee in that once you get a taste of a blend you like, it’s hard to go back to the freeze-dried, generic canned stuff our parents used to stock. I try not to play favorites on the local art scene, but I’ll admit that Unit B tends to brew shows to my taste: strong and dark, with a little cream thrown in to smooth out the postmodern bitterness. And so the story goes … , the three-person show that closes March 7, uses this formula to deliver its promised send-up of visual narratives: At its lightest it’s a hilarious dissection of our need to rope visual information into storylines; at its heaviest it’s an ominous reminder of the way those narratives harden into a finite set of options. It’s not an uncommon theme in these times, when plot lines and entire series are built around therapy (or maybe I just project it everywhere, but with the show’s title and curator’s statement, you have to give me this one). But where many artists and curators get at it with deconstruction, And so the story goes ... lets the viewer work backward from the sum to the revealing parts.
San Antonio artist Kelly O’Connor’s work spins gold from childhood straw in a fractured fairy tale starring the wonderful world of Disney et al. The Unit B show features the type of album-cover collages that stood out in the 2007 Texas Biennial — colorful confetti dots and rearranged images suggesting that tragedy and farce lie just under the musical motifs — and newer dioramas such as “Far Far Away,” in which a host of cute and cuddly heroes (Dumbo, Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, Thumper) float in clouds above a forest of theme-park castles, while the Seven Dwarfs hide behind shrubs and a flock of Disney helper birds flits about. A recurring harlequin wallpaper of sorts provides the background for some of O’Connor’s mischief in the same way these familiar stories line our pop-culture-bred psyches.
O’Connor creates her vignettes with candy-colored felt, princess blues and pinks, and shiny found papers that seem directly descended from the great commercial dragon, suggesting that commodification and acquisition are two reasons the tales that promise potential and escape when we’re little become prisons once we’re adults and parents. How to get the magic back? Maybe with a spoonful of absurdity, as in the wonderfully weird “Mickeyballs,” in which a giant Mickey balloon/cloud formation pulls along what looks like Pooh’s elusive beehive and Bambi clinging to a blue sack. From the latter, the foot of O’Connor’s counterculture heroine, Wonderland’s Alice, protrudes.
Duncan Anderson’s small found-object sculptures are populated by toys of a lesser marketing God, but ripped from their pre-packaged narratives, they’re free to wreak disenchantment. A doll dressed like Carmen dances on the edge of a bed in “Anonymous Heroine seducing the end of the world …” (Anderson employs run-on fragment titles like the found-sound ambient-house band the KLF). A penguin leans in despair against a roll-top desk for “Facing the horrible truth (closing my eyes and thinking of England).” In my favorite, a Napoleonic soldier draws his sword on a prehistoric creature. Things are ending badly in these small worlds, but our ad-hoc heroes are facing it with qualities heralded in literature from ancient Greece to Bogart: agony, bravura, devil-may-care.
Video artist Damon Bishop’s battles are all internal, acted out with a host of escapees from the Island of Misfit Toys (with a fortnight stopover on the Island of Doctor Moreau). A lonely oddball longs for companionship and solace, but its arrival — in a talking teddy bear named Buttons, a tiny man who looks like a cross between a Wall Street extra and a gigolo, or the musical Killbot 5 (“I like to sing; you like to dance … let’s sing and dance songs of love”) — merely foreshadows a tragic end. Resurrection is agony forestalled for a few minutes. Unusual for art videos, these have enough narrative that too much elaboration would require a spoiler alert, and ruin the almost dreadful whimsy of watching Bishop’s strange universe collapse in on itself and rise again from the ashes. •
And so the story goes ...
1-5pm Sat & by appt
Closing reception: 7-10pm Fri, Mar 7
Unit B (Gallery)