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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/19/2006 Archived Entry: "Gallery Review: Communication/Consumption"

De/Signing Women
May 27, 2006 through June 25, 2006
Avenue 50 Studio
131 N. Avenue 50
Highland Park
323 258 1435

Gallery Review by Lui Sanchez

Recent artworks by Val Echavarria and Samantha Harrison are presented at the Avenue 50 Studio exhibition of Communication Consumption. Here the two women enter into dialogues between themselves and us on obsessive and often absurd manifestations of communication and consumption. Their artworks are visually delightful, compact, precise and engaging, but embody a more acute if not darker realization of human personification that is worthy of our attention and investigation.

Samantha Harrison presents works of graphic delicacy that ironically elicits our consumption of the work while criticizing the act to do so, as overwhelmingly generated by corporate America. Her works are placards or signs of corporate co-opting -- where company logos and trademarks are composed with illustrated visages of human anatomy, body accoutrements or tableaux that create a sublimely irreverent crosshatch of a Darwin-esque Gray's Anatomy ad campaign/menu. This winsome mingle is framed in preciously executed Rococo styled curvilinear leaves and stems that arabesque throughout her works disguising the wry critical eye of Harrison behind an eroticism that most advertising firms would die for. Though this type of excellent crafting is commonplace for Harrison, with this work she moves to a more monochromatic styling that signals a beautiful apotheosis in her ruminations of form and content.

It is this beauty, however, that Harrison will not take for granted. The fragmented bodies or organs that Harrison views as receptors of and for corporate values clearly marks for us our addiction to designed consumerism. Our bodies, our selves are no longer whole without the co-dependency of product we are led to ingest. In Harrison's Coca Cola, the Coca Cola brand name fixes comfortably atop a woman's reproductive system, marking it the perfect purveyor of consumer efficiency: a deftly illustrated how-to page of corporate symbiosis that no longer gives birth to soul but to commodity. There amongst the design, Harrison suggests that our desire to consume has matched if not replaced our desire to reproduce. Quicker than we can gleam a Wal-Mart, Chanel, or Disneyland sign across a television screen or billboard our beauty is defiled. We become like Harrison's Exxon, an erotic visual frontispiece of bodily juices literally spilt out into an ocean that only more consumerism can clean up, while any remaining human essence is outlasted on an exquisitely placed company sign. Harrison is right to quote Bush here, "America is addicted to oil," and our bodies, however fragmented, are all the more comfortable for it.

Bush's words, however, do not go unscathed. Across the gallery Val Echavarria is clearly resigned to the weightlessness of such words. Designed in carefully created 6 x 6" boxes, Echavarria structures thirteen curios or shadow boxes that strain, strive for, or ridicule any last remaining vestiges of clear communication. In her Lip Service, Echavarria reverberates Harrison's addicted dilemma. Language rather than the body, however, is the defiled signifier and the iconic finger-waving talking head in Lip Service becomes the more Republican under the trampling of words by Echavarria's geometric yet abundant horde of elephants.

This trampling however is not a strictly Republican stronghold. Echavarria is wise to question intents of communication particularly as it deflates around her in various arenas. Her works imbued with warm yellows, oranges, browns and reds against the gallery's sand colored walls often ask questions that seek sonic truths. The delicate quality of her pieces, like Harrison's, disguises the fervent need to capture the word, any word that would give answer and connection to her investigations. But unlike Harrison, her fragmented illustrations of ears, mouths, lips, are in desperate need of nourishment and yet we cannot serve them. Instead, Echavarria views our communication mottled about as in Speak: somewhere there in the miasma we are able to see letters but unable to put them together into words that give weight to our thoughts, our structures. Our communication, rather, passes through our minds as a sweetly familiar utterance that quickly dissipates just as it sounds in your head suggests Echavarria in In One Ear. We may no longer be vessels of process even with trampled words and in Echavarria's graphic cobweb our caught minds may long be stored in the attic to recline.

At which then, we can assuredly bounce back across the gallery to Harrison's American Airlines. Harrison's condom instruction manual becomes more astute as, here too, we suggestively can recline in first class, flying safely above any real intercourse, perfectly gratified by unknowing what is fed to us. Someday we may be able to answer Echavarria's what The Soup Chick says..., but these two women certainly see the immediacy that such answers may well be gone if not well hidden in the beautiful yet empty signs and language we engage in day to day. It is with no minor delight that the partnering and interaction between Echavarria and Harrison in this exhibition is well noticed, as Echavarrias's self-portrait in No Connection becomes more of a woman that is perhaps sitting in the back of the corporate branding machine board room confoundedly viewing next year's ad campaign that Harrison so warningly displays.

It's an ad campaign we will no doubt consume. The remedy of this consumption, however, may just be here with Echavarria and Harrison. We at times may well be pleased to keep ourselves mute but when we are force-fed comfortably not to think we can only look to de-sign ourselves and re-sign ourselves if only out of necessity to be heard. Echavarria and Harrison dare to show us through the prodded colons and extracted teeth, through the gaping mouth and stitched ear, what may be our last knowing sensory organs of communication: not to be sold. Yet you might want to buy these mementos -- that what should truly have our value -- but you may just be too late, as you spend the last mound of income on the ad campaign that tattoos sign-ificantly in your head.

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