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Faculty and staff exhibition at SPSCC

From genomes to geology

“Where’s the Xanax?” mixed media by Liza Brenner. Photo courtesy Liza Brenner

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When walking into the art gallery at South Puget Sound Community College, the first thing to greet the eye is a curtain of hanging white porcelain shapes suspended by clear monofilament line. It is like a bead curtain, but it is not beads. It is a representation of genome sequencing. It is called "The Life and Genome of Henrietta Lacks." Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells were used in breakthrough medical studies. Some of the white porcelain forms look like bones, some like figures. Looking at it, I was reminded of dancing skeleton puppets. So we have here an intriguing piece of art that reflects on science and history, and which is a visual treat.

From a contemplation of genomes we go to geology with Sean Barnes' series of sculptures using anthropogenic materials and processes. There is one free-standing sculpture on a pedestal that looks like quartz and other rock formations fused together. Within it is a cell phone case that appears to be part of the rock. Nearby is a group of similar works in box frames that hang on the gallery wall. All are rough and gritty organic abstractions that combine natural geologic formations with man-made items such as tape and a shard from a broken tea cup. They are visual representations of the essential beauty of natural and man-made materials. Part of the beauty of it is that the man-made materials tend to disappear into the natural rock.

As art depicting genomes lead the eye and mind to anthropogenic materials, we next go to a series of works by Joe Batt that combine animals and humans with cell phones, towers and space exploration. We have seen in previous shows and entire gallery installations at SPSCC, Tacoma Community College and Salon Refu that Batt continually creates worlds of electronic communications wherein animals and humans become part of the mechanical and scientific worlds humans have created. Here we see a group of hyenas with electronics strapped to their backs confronting a white bunny rabbit. One of the hyenas is vicious-looking, making the viewer wonder what kind of horrifying future world we are seeing and how near are we to seeing it become reality.

Batt is also showing a charcoal drawing done directly on the gallery wall with digitally collaged images of people, birds, an elephant and a cell phone tower on the face of a mountain. The textures and drawing are quite intriguing due to the manner in which the actual texture of the wall blends with the illusory texture of the drawing.

Liza Brenner is showing two large mixed-media depictions of urban scenes that seem to be set in an earlier time, perhaps the 18th century. I approached these with mixed reactions, thinking on the one hand that they are too illustrational and almost corny, but admiring the artist's technical skill and some of the surrealistic elements such as shadowy figures and a snake wearing a crown.  

I admired Nathan Barnes' two works, "Stifle" and "Diaspora." These are pop-surreal images typical of the work for which Barnes is well known. They are colorful, strange and beautifully executed with great skill and attention to detail. I had an opportunity to talk to Barnes about these pieces and learned that the models for the faces, like the models for many of his constructed paintings, were relatives, and that every element in them refers to something historical or personally relevant. Whether or not the viewer is privy to the stories behind his paintings, they are fascinating to look at. Make up your own stories, and then if Barnes, who manages the gallery, happens to be there, ask him to explain.  

"SPSCC Art Faculty and Staff Exhibition," noon-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through Oct. 20, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia, 360.596.5527,

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