Alibi V.12 No.36 • Sept 4-10, 2003 

Art Article

Art?!

Trash!? at [AC]2

"Mr. & Mrs. America” by Peggy Engel
"Mr. & Mrs. America” by Peggy Engel

Some of my fondest memories from my otherwise miserable childhood involve my dad loading up our van with trash and taking me to the dump. If I was lucky, we'd get there before the bulldozers pulverized all that wonderful junk into the earth. On those special days, I'd wander wide-eyed and blissful between stinking mountains of glorious trash while seagulls floated gracefully in the breeze overhead. If those putrid mountains had been made of candy, I couldn't have been more ecstatic.

I've carried my youthful enthusiasm for garbage with me into adulthood, and I don't seem to be alone in this. People like trash. Good trash, at least. The kind you can do something with.

The idea of transforming garbage into art isn't a new one, of course, but some ideas are too good to abandon. An exhibit called Trash!? is currently showing at [AC]2. It does junk aesthetic justice.

Untitled photograph by Elizabeth Brizard
Untitled photograph by Elizabeth Brizard

Peggy Engel's "Insects" scurry across a two-tiered wood table. Constructed of resistors, capacitors, diodes, wire and bits of anachronistic wood these little buggers are too cute to hold much interest. More appealing are Engel's other mixed media work, especially a series of hung pieces framed in weathered wood and composed of horseshoe nails, wire, mesh, bones and other found detritus.

Among the best is "Mr. & Mrs. America," incorporating a rectangular metal plate perforated with bullet holes. Behind each hole is a black and white photograph of a face. Above the plate is a plastic doodad with three holes containing additional black and white photos of anonymous people. At the bottom are five torn black and white images of feet.

This enigmatic work might be some kind of demented family altar. It might be a subtle commentary on the nature of time and memory. It might be an advertisement for Smith and Wesson. Who the hell knows? Whatever the case, it's an eerily attractive composition that's hard to forget.

The other two artists in the show, Liz Rowe and Elizabeth Brizard, contribute color photographs. Rowe's small-scale images are close-ups of decaying metal, wood, paint and other materials. The lens was held so close you often can't guess what the actual subject is.

They're surprisingly varied in color and form. "Fine on the Dotted Line," for example, which consists of light pink and dark globular rust spots, looks almost painterly, while "Identity Theft" incorporates fluid Zen-like black forms on a white background.

Brizard's work also focuses on the beauty of disintegrating industrial materials, and there are many similarities between the two women's images. Brizard's photographs, though, are more varied in size, and her titles suggest figurative aspects to be found in the otherwise abstract images.

While Rowe emphasizes the ideas and feelings conjured up by her photos, Brizard focuses on actual things vaguely discernible in photographs like "Red Fence" and "Tidal Pool." In a quartet of images—"Forest Walk," "Birth of a Window," "Still Life with Castle" and "Helen's Bear"—richly colored, watery shapes take form right before the viewer's eyes, providing the same kind of fun you get hunting for boats or heaps of ice cream or John Ashcroft's ugly mug in big puffy clouds.

A flawless world would be boring, even ugly. Trash—and the decay associated with it—makes the world beautiful. Don't believe me? Proof is hanging on the walls at [AC]2.

Trash!?, an exhibit featuring work by Peggy Engel, Elizabeth Brizard and Liz Rowe, runs through Sept. 21 at [AC]2. 842-8016.