Isthmus / www.thedailypage (Madison, WI)
Published on August 11, 2000
By Jennifer Smith

By turns satirical, sexual, poetic and obscure, "Flora & Fauna" takes on the theme of human interaction with the natural world. For his last Madison show, curator Scott Speh has pulled together a lineup of four young artists in a range of media. An essay by ecologist Chris Nice frames the show, paralleling art and science as modes of investigating the world.

Passers-by on East Johnson Street can view Katherine Shaughnessy's windowfront installation, "Doegirl and other Adventures in Bioengineering." Shaughnessy has created an entire mythology surrounding the creatures of "Pleasant Forest," including the half-woman, half-deer Princess Isabella; a group of saccharine-sweet "Handimals," forest critters with human hands who pay loving tribute to the princess; and the unfortunate "Mutants." The mutants sprout body parts where they should not, like broken, deformed toys.

Fabricated from mannequin and doll parts, resin animal lawn ornaments, Astroturf and the like, Shaughnessy's work plays with the decidedly non-natural. She seeks to provoke questions about bioengineering and other new technologies. Breakthroughs in cloning lead to uncomfortable questions about the ability to "design" people - the eugenics of the future, perhaps. In her artist's statement, Shaughnessy also links her innocuous-yet-sinister creatures to the idealized images marketed by Disney, characters with "big eyes and tiny waists." Here, she moves toward a feminist critique, lending a satirical edge to the bright, cheery colors, cuddly-looking squirrels and vapid princess. <

Although working in the most traditional medium in "Flora & Fauna," Joel Gaydos approaches the theme in a manner most diplomatically described a novel. In two large charcoal drawings, the artist - also a professional horticulturist - presents himself having sex with plants, "Plantfucker II (Fellatio with Echinops 'Blue Glow')" shows the artist clad only in hat and hiking boots, inserting himself into a thistlelike plant with lavender blossoms. Curiously, Gaydos draws touches of color to the carefully rendered plant. His drawing style and angular, bony depiction of his own body call to mind the sexually charged work of the Expressionist Egon Schiele.

Colin Beatty presents himself dancing around stacks of nature magazines in "Dancing Around the Issues," two large-scale photographs of a performance piece. From the photos alone, it is unclear whether Beatty is celebrating or rejecting academic knowledge about nature, but the title seems to favor the later interpretation. Perhaps only by being in nature, he seems to suggest, can form an authentic experience of it.

Rounding out the exhibition are several video pieces by Paul Fuchs, including "Elefoot Dancing," in which the artist dances masked among elephants at a zoo to the beat of electronic music. The videos are the least successful part of the show, neither visually compelling nor contributing much to the theme of humans and nature.


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