Thursday, July 15, 2004
Art: Photographs by Cara Lea Cole; Paintings & Drawings by Kyung Jeon
By Erika Yowell
Dust Gallery's current show of work by UNLV grad Cara Lea Cole and New York's Kyung Jeon offers visitors a study in contrast. In an effort to balance out Dust regular Cole's signature depictions of bloody animal sacrifices, gallery co-owner Naomi Arin selected Jeon's ultra-feminine works on paper.
The opposition confers instant dynamism to the gallery space. Walk in the door, and you're confronted with Cole's gruesome series of photo diptychs on one wall and Jeon's fanciful gouache paintings on rice paper on the other. It should be noted, however, that Cole's photographs alone offer their own degree of push-pull. Each of the works in the series, titled "The Sky Above the Mud Below," features two photos: Cole has juxtaposed many of her agonized animal vignettes with a celestial image of sun streaming through clouds. In "#15," a swatch of bloodied and torn animal hide is presented as a piece of abstracted landscape, driving home the concept of dust-to-dust and hinting at Cole's inspiration for the series' title.
Another point I should bring up, lest Cole be targeted by PETA, is that she is not herself involved in sacrificial acts. Instead, she spends remarkable quantities of time in far-flung places such as Mongolia, where such practices are embedded in the culture. Cole just documents them. Of course, and as one gallery patron was heard to remark during the show's opening, it's possible to interpret the application of such images into a fine art context as vaguely exploitive.
Of course, Jeon's work is exploitive, too, if you find the replication of miniaturized depictions of Asian girls donning only their underwear inherently degrading. Whatever your inclinations, though, you should withhold a rush to judgment and spend time investigating each of Jeon's intricate compositions instead. "Chamber," for example, shows five girls encased in boxes ö la Madonna's S&M video for "Human Nature" of some years back. Is this degrading, though? Maybe, but the fact that Jeon is self-consciously toying with fantasy stereotypes here comes across loud and clear.
Jeon's works present a host of mysterious and provocative scenes. "Cleansing" features a duo of scantily clad girls engaged in cutting the hair of one nude one, who holds scissors more or less strategically to conceal/accentuate her pubic area. In "Slip," a menacing fairy hovers near a scene of an underwear-clad woman falling backward on a river of red and lime-green marbles. Jeon's figures are rendered rather primitively, but the dynamic perspective of this foreshortened, toppling figure reveals the artist's technical virtuosity.