Art Beat: At the end of the world

Updated: October 3, 2014 - 4:08 pm

A residency in Chile inspires Alexa HorochowskiÂ’s latest collection of sculpture, video and photography; plus, Edie Overturf and Derek Van Gieson collaborate at Public Functionary

MARCY HOLMES — It’s odd finding references to cochayuyo on Chilean cooking websites, with advice for home cooks to re-hydrate dried bundles of the bull kelp species before adding chunks to salads or the sauté pan.

Or at least it is after seeing Alexa Horochowski’s new exhibition at the Soap Factory, where she molds its long, leathery, alien-looking tendrils into sculptures that resemble the mating balls of snakes. Horochowski also weaves bronze-toned cochayuyo between the bars of a steel cage — a starkly beautiful pairing of natural and manmade materials, and a higher use of the seaweed, perhaps, than mashing it with garlic like a briny potato.

Horochowski encountered Durvillaea antarctica during a residency at Casa Poli, a cultural center on the Chile’s Coliumo Peninsula where she spent part of the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2012–2013. On her website, Horochowski shares photos of cochayuyo hanging to dry from the second-story window of Casa Poli, a Brutalist concrete box perched above the ocean on a granite cliff.

On the beach down below, she shot video of forests of floating cochayuyo churning in the surf. At the Soap Factory, the footage is projected on three screens in a darkened room filled with an ominous soundtrack — metallic shrieking over rumbling bass that seems to steadily increase in volume before starting over. The images are mirrored vertically, and the symmetry emphasizes the otherworldly strangeness of the kelp; it seems to thrash like in the waves like the tentacles of a sea monster.

Other objects and specimens Horochowski observed or collected while in Chile appear in the show’s mix of minimalist sculptures, video works and black-and-white digital prints. The Soap Factory’s raw, industrial gallery space is a surprisingly suitable stand-in for the rugged Chilean coastline. You half expect to see a guano-streaked rock even before you catch a glimpse of the chair Horochowski has slathered in thick white paint and gull feathers.

The title of the show, “Club Disminución,” is translated as “Club of Diminishing Returns.” The implication is that something has peaked and is headed downhill, and that something may be us.

Another video underscores the point. The view this time is from inside a sea cave, and we can see light and waves rushing through the opening. Again the image is mirrored, this time horizontally, so that the side-by-side cave mouths resemble the two empty eye sockets of a skull.

Horochowski makes bronze casts of sea sponges, and the sculptures, pocked with holes, look either like nature translated into metal or metal decomposing under natural forces. What looks like a giant clamshell plucked right from the ocean is actually another bronze, a trompe l’oeil sculpture.

Through repeated mixing of natural and artificial materials, or the substitution of one for the other, Horochowski evokes nature’s power to erase us, to erode what we’ve built or cover it in weeds until it slowly crumbles.

As for humans, we’re only represented indirectly. Our trash appears neatly arranged on a table of flotsam. In a photograph taken on the roof of Casa Poli, we see no people, just three empty chairs and the beginning of a sunset over the ocean.

 

Alexa Horochowski: Club Disminución

WHEN: Through Nov. 9

WHERE: The Soap Factory, 514 2nd St. SE

INFO: 623-9176, soapfactory.org

 

A tale of five tribes

NORTHEAST PARK — Public Functionary has dedicated its 2014 exhibition schedule to narrative in art, and with the latest installment, an unusual collaboration between two artists, the focus shifts to mythmaking.

A year or so ago, the printmaker Edie Overturf and illustrator and cartoonist Derek Van Gieson decided to tell the stories of five imaginary “tribes,” including bearded hermaphrodites, a race of cat people and species of two-headed human. They are creatures you might find stalking the unexplored regions on a medieval map.

They came up with a few plot points, but then Overturf and Van Gieson went their separate ways, developing the ideas individually, Overturf in color woodblock prints and Van Gieson in ink-slicked drawings toned sepia with coffee stains.

Like most of our myths and legends, these stories come in competing, maybe even irreconcilable versions. If there is a narrative thread running through the dozens of prints and drawings, it’s been cut to bits and is frayed at both ends.

But there’s plenty to enjoy in the individual images, especially the cheeky way Overturf’s gender-mixed creatures enact scenes from religious art, as when a trio of bearded women emerge from the belly of a fish, Jonah-like, while the cat people look on.

Van Gieson exercises his comics-making chops, telling his version of the cat people myth — one that appears to contain love, violence and village ritual — in a dozen loosely linked, gestural drawings.

 

Overturf + Van Gieson: In Search Of …

WHEN: Through Oct. 17

WHERE: Public Functionary, 1400 12th Ave. NE

INFO: 238-9523, publicfunctionary.org