Consolidated Works, 381-3218.
Through June 22.
Everyone I talk to who has seen Wrapture loves Two Planes, a video by Canada/Los Angeles artist Euan Macdonald. Which is interesting because it's one of the most modest in a show of fairly flamboyant work that is meant to be a sort of indirect experience of sex: a way of looking at sex without looking at sex.
This paradox is posited by curators Meg Shiffler and Lisa Favero as being the sexy meeting of two unsexy surfaces, although the artists take some liberties (as artists will, and artists should). New York artist Stacy Greene's images of used lipsticks, an inventory in bright large-scale photographs, are about the unexpected meeting between lips (naturally sexy) and lipstick (suggestive): The lipsticks are bitten, sucked on, worn down to nubs. And David Eckard's multiple-work installation, called Tournament (lumens), saddles the body (his own) with strange devices that cripple it, humiliate it, and boss it around. (There is a whiff of Matthew Barney about the whole thing--an erotic athleticism built in part out of pain.) I like both of these works, but pairing the body with anything else is too easy for Shiffler and Favero's hypothesis; that Jason Mouer managed to make sexy little objects out of latex and newspaper seems much more to the point. (Also, my desire to lick a David Reed painting finally makes sense.)
In among these more lascivious scenarios, Macdonald's conjoined airplanes seem to be a gentle punch line, a harmless joke told by a visiting aunt. In a short video loop, two airplanes fly around together, seen first at a distance and then closer. At the end, one plane's landing gear descends, briefly, like a little erection, or a birth, before the loop begins again. That's all that happens, although there's a slight breathlessness of anticipation, of expecting something more (will the planes crash? or separate?)--a quality I've seen in other Macdonald videos. It has the air of a home movie: casual, slightly unfocused, even accidental, like someone had grabbed a camera in order to record a UFO sighting. Of course, UFOs are not really unexplained; we have whole volumes of readymade theories and urban myths to explain them away. But a pair of mating airplanes? There is the obvious (and correct) assumption, which is that it's a video manipulated by the artist, but there was a beat when I wondered if it might be one of those mid-air refueling systems, so therefore real. That beat, that moment of wondering, is important. It gives the work a vacillating quality: natural, but still just far enough outside the rote-tabloid universe to feel freakish.
Maybe that's why Two Planes is so popular, since it represents a point of view about sex--the absurd side, the side that recognizes that this thing, this act, is both natural and utterly freakish--that is frequently missing from the usual prototypes of the sex-positive world (the soft-focused "erotic," with its convoluted avoidance of biology; the joyless mainstreamed S&M). This is not to say that I can't enjoy a bit of sensuality, such as in a video by Jennifer West, late of Seattle, now living in Los Angeles, which seems to be a few strands of green goo stretching slowly (sensually, I guess) across a screen. It looks like pure Discovery Channel material, bringing to mind mating insects, sap, spores, fungus, anything viscous and sticky. It's actually a plastic cactus that West melted and filmed (see if you can figure out how); the video runs a bit slower than real time, first forward and then backward, so that the cactus slowly recoheres. Here is sensuality not stripped of danger, but not artificially larded with it either. West, like a good abstract expressionist, which she is not (a kind of glee about melting plastic makes her seem more like a teenage pyro), lets the material be the material: How it acts is only part of what it means.
In retrospect, it's not so odd that my favorite two works in Wrapture are videos, since the last word on two sexy surfaces producing unsexy results is, of course, porn. Watch porn long enough, and it becomes ridiculous, hilarious, much more absurd than a pair of airplanes caught mating mid-air.