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Bias at Morphos Gallery

Having undermined the concept of a single "master narrative" in favor of multiple, equally valid narratives, postmodernism and its adherents in the visual arts are increasingly stymied in their attempts to present a cohesive and meaningful visual message. Pursuing a particular postmodern affectation, many recent curatorial strategies have taken up linguistic deconstruction, playing on the embodied and designated meanings implied in some selected word.

The numerous meanings inherent in the word "bias" form a rough framework for a recent five-person show at the Morphos Gallery in San Francisco. Two definitions supplied by the typical college dictionary for "bias" - "a line cutting diagonally across the grain of fabric" and "preference or inclination that inhibits impartial judgment; prejudice" - suggest numerous metaphorical possibilities. If nothing else, Bias succeeded in suggesting the liberating power of a sharp pair of shears.

Of the featured artists, Marcia Binnendyk is easily the standout. Her purgative stuffed animals dominate the exhibition, with exceptional presence and horrific attraction. Chewing up the ephemera of a stereotypical Disneyesque American childhood, Binnendyk regurgitates a menagerie of fearsome furry figurines. Her Mr. and Mrs. Papa Mickey references Grant Wood's American Gothic, taking its satiric edge to darker, more revealing depths. Standing in a paternal attitude with his red plastic picnic fork, Papa Mickey's distended guts - an assortment of beads, marbles, cloth fragments, costume jewelry - are barely contained by a manic lacework of thread, string and floss.

Binnendyk continues this shredding of popular culture with Mickey Rat, Bunny with Exploding Head and The Golden Bird, each offering an intestinal cascade of cultural totems that include golden-tressed doll heads, fragments of Sesame Street characters, and even a clear plastic drumming Energizer bunny. Her work suggests a desperate attempt to refashion sanity out of insipid social stimuli; to bind with thread the exposed scabs of market-crazed, late-capitalist society. Binnedyk's hideous and cuddly creations are a commentary on the deceptions, illusions and outright lies that "bind" together a gaudy and superficial polity. They also point to the alienation such a culture produces, where people seek vainly for comfort from inanimate stuffed animals instead of from each other.

Bias also featured several pieces by Timothy Cummings, the most effective of which was the decidedly unsubtle The Grand Gesture of a Sexual Deviant. A gruesome, pinkish puppet with an daring, toothy expression dangles from the ceiling, holding a pair of shears in one hand, in the other a threaded needle. Below him, resting on a green stepstool, are his genitals. Rather than impotence, the figure stitches the wound with determined ferocity, asserting that sexuality is something achieved, not bestowed. Cummings' other work - primarily well-rendered figurative paintings - also explored sexual ambiguity, often repeating the scissors-as-liberating-agent motif.

The other three artists create work that is more subtle. Constance Tell's mixed-media wall piece Pledge shows diving figures and other random objects - an anchor, part of a spine, a gun, a brain stem - circulating about a target superimposed upon McCall's sewing patterns. To the instructions provided to the garment maker ("Interface to this line"), Tell has added her own admonitions: "Struggle if you have to" and "Create justice wherever you are." Life seldom fits some objective pattern defined by faceless authority, Tell implies, but is a much more fluid and creative endeavor.

Stephanie Wilger's three large-scale sculptural assemblages evoke the constriction and formality of contemporary life. The best piece is Lovers, in which a pair of green figures float in a snug, filament-lined shell, suggesting the manner in which socially created restraints bind and contain even the most intimate of relations. Wilger's other two pieces are more enigmatic. Longing presents several sperm circling an egg contained by a condom-like cloth, representing the barriers to the realization of ideas. The symbolically loaded Pendulum shows a fetus-like object hanging from a 10-foot cross draped in a sheer white bridal gown, again revealing the way organized religion and restrictive social convention crucify human - especially female - potentiality. Miriam Hitchcock rounds out Bias with well-fabricated but rather pedestrian wall pieces, in which figurative elements float among pale color fields.

- Paul Dorn

Bias closed September 5 at Morphos Gallery, San Francisco

Paul Dorn is a San Francisco-based freelance writer

Originally appeared in the October 1995 issue of Artweek, published in San Jose, California..


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