Is That A Rocket In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

The Cosmology And Sexuality Of Spent Rocket Ship Parts At The New Fisher Gallery

Steven Robert Allen
3 min read
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Maybe it's a guy thing, but whether you're talking about a jack hammer, a Camaro or a space shuttle, machines can be damn sexy. Their speed, the skull-rattling roar of their engines and their sheer, appalling, destructive force make them undeniably erotic.

Of all machines, the rocket is probably the ultimate phallus, perfectly symbolizing the raw thrust of human ingenuity. Setting aside their obvious scientific utility, rockets inspire the imagination of young boys everywhere for reasons Freud would've found all too obvious.

An exhibit currently running at the New Fisher Gallery explores some of the sexual connotations of rocket parts. Bruce Shortz has created a series of tightly cropped digital photographic prints of V2 and V4 rocket engines housed at the Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo. He subtly treated his images with Adobe Photoshop to saturate the colors, softening the lines with digital filters to give these spent parts a warmer, less mechanistic look.

Titles like “Coupled,” “Love Chamber #9,” “Gracefully Exhausted” and “Sheathed & Harnessed” leave little to the viewer's imagination. These overtly erotic labels create a direct connection between the high-tech machinery depicted and the elements of human sexuality Shortz seeks to illuminate.

In a statement accompanying his exhibit, Shortz writes that when he was shooting these photographs he felt as if the rocket parts took on a life of their own. This feeling comes across in the final processed images. When these rocket parts were put to use they must've reached blazing hot temperatures. You can almost feel their residual warmth radiating off Shortz' images.

On the other hand, these prints aren't so processed that they've lost their documentary quality. On the most basic level, Shortz' images capture the simple, physical beauty of these machines. In that sense, despite the vaguely humorous, erotic titles of both the individual pieces and the exhibit as a whole, these photographs are realistic depictions that remain intriguing even when stripped of their primary metaphor.

In a bin against the wall are a series of unmounted digital images of flowers, which Shortz included in the show to counter the raw mechanistic aesthetic of his rocket engine images. These are pretty but too conventional to hold the attention long. And because they aren't mounted, they don't integrate as well as they might have with Shortz' rocket part prints.

Of greater interest are a few random images, some mounted, some located in the bin with the floral prints. One particularly cool print is Shortz' bizarre “Smoker in El Bosque,” depicting a figure in white face paint, head-dress and toga, half submerged in water, puffing on a cigarette while a flock of water fowl loiter in the background. There's something both appealing and creepy about this image, as if we're witnessing some kind of inexplicable backwoods rite that will soon devolve into a flurry of cultic bloodshed.

Combined with the rocket prints, images like “Smoker in El Bosque” make this one of the most stimulating shows I've seen in a while. Strap on your space helmet and venture into the New Fisher Gallery to see Shortz' work in all its mechanized glory.

The Cosmology and Sexuality of Spent Rocket Ship Parts, an exhibit featuring digital photographic prints by Bruce Shortz, runs through July 31 at the New Fisher Gallery. 247-1529.

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