CARLEE FERNANDEZ Beautiful but not cuddly.
Carlee Fernandez and Keith Yurdana Platform Gallery
114 Third Ave S, 328-2808
Through Oct 9.

World mythologies provide us with countless stories of various unions between humans, animals, and nature and traditional art--wherever its global origins--reflects this intersection (only natural, given we once lived closer to the land we depended on and the animals we ate). Now people approach the wilderness and the animals in it like they do Disneyland: an entertaining environment that bears no relationship to daily life. As our contact with nature lessens, contemporary art reflects this disjunction more and more. For the past six years, L.A.-based artist Carlee Fernandez has been exploring our lack of relationship with animals through sculpture that can be termed variously as functional art, fine art, and "wildlife art."

Fernandez' current series, Still Lifes, takes the literal translation of taxidermy (taxis meaning movement and derma being skin) one step further and poses rabbits, birds, rats, and other animals not only in mid-flight or mid-jump, but enmeshed in their natural habitat. Still Lifes is an elegant leap from her two previous bodies of work, Friends and the Carnage II 7000 Series. Game animals figured significantly in both, as functional domestic items in Friends (a rhinoceros-head stepladder) and luggage (a mini-antelope fanny pack) in Carnage. Both series framed animals specifically as objects for everyday use, but rather than make them palatable, Fernandez retained their big, scary, dead animalness. Still Lifes does the opposite and takes a gentler, more feminine approach by addressing each animal's beauty and teasing out their natural gestures and movements.

Fernandez' literal titles leave little room for guesswork at some implied meaning beyond what you see mounted on the wall. Black rabbit with cherries is a black rabbit frozen mid-leap on a cherry-tree branch. A chandelier of cherries drops heavy over the rabbit's head, to the point where they are submerged into the rabbit's pelt and erupting through its fur. As with the rest of the pieces, I kept thinking Black rabbit was either derived from or a retelling of a myth or folktale but Fernandez has no other intention other than hybridizing the two and seeing what happens, hence the literalness of the titles. Chicks with branches is a triptych of downy chicks impaled on what look like willow-tree branches. The branches flow out from the birds like wisps of smoke, describing a bird's usual movement except the movement has been stilled and the birds (if birds can bear expressions) seem content in their entrapment.

As Fernandez continues working with mounted (rather than stuffed, mounted is the term preferred by taxidermists) animals as her primary medium, each new series is guaranteed to achieve a new level of sophistication. And what she's doing isn't some Damien Hirst knockoff or even a nod: Hirst is as likely to submerge a '66 Buick LeSabre in formaldehyde as he is a tiger shark. Fernandez' work is more about an ongoing investigation of a singular medium rather than grabbing at whatever has the most immediate cultural resonance.

Keith Yurdana's work is a natural complement to Fernandez' but rather dull on its own, a sort of brownout opposite the world proposed by Fernandez. Included in the show are several large mixed-media drawings, a few wall-mounted sculptures, and a giant knobby-bone/tree-limb sculpture. There's no doubt Yurdana is talented but the work's heavy-handed formalism ultimately overrides any meaning that stretches beyond the artist's own interests. Those interests--anatomy, architecture, and medical paraphernalia--are readily apparent but they coexist rather than coalesce. Stomata-Pouch Stemnaura (which is part fancy name for stomach and part made-up medical term) is tightly controlled randomness and what initially look like scribbles ultimately have a patterned logic that marches neatly around the paper. Theory is aptly titled but this is where Yurdana turns resolutely inward, positing a theory known only to the artist that is completely inaccessible to the audience. I'd be interested to see what might happen if Yurdana went a little sloppy and played around a bit more with the emotional, as well as anatomical, messiness of our insides.

kurtz@thestranger.com