<b>READY FOR A CLOSE-UP:</b> Norm Reed's assemblage piece "Wheel of Flies" includes a magnifying glass.

David J Diamant

READY FOR A CLOSE-UP: Norm Reed's assemblage piece "Wheel of Flies" includes a magnifying glass.

Specimen at the Arts Fund Gallery

Odd Objects Curated by Ted Mills

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
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As Alice of Wonderland said, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t” — and that was before the Walrus began discussing those shoes and ships and sealing wax. Alice would feel right at home at the Arts Fund Gallery exploring the Ted Mills–curated exhibition Specimen, which is filled with oddities and curiosities by some of the shining lights of the Santa Barbara assemblage art scene, with work by such artists as Dug Uyesaka, Dan Levin, Tracy Beeler, Jim O’Mahoney, Sue Van Horsen, Norm Reed, Michael Long, Ethan Turpin, and Mills himself, along with special audio art by Jonathan Smith.

The small Arts Fund Gallery space seems to have grown from a magic elixir, as each of the 11 artists has created his or her own peculiar microcosm, filled with encyclopedic objects whose categorical boundaries have yet to be defined. Joseph Cornell is frequently cited as an influence on the assemblage arts, but these pieces seem derived from the cabinets of curiosity, those Renaissance precursors to museums and to the art collections of European kings. Here, each artist has created worlds of wonder that range from the sentimental to the grotesque. Discovered, displayed, modified, and fabricated objects fill these works, all carefully juxtaposed within tableaux, unique picture frames, and pieces of furniture. They invite the viewer to fall into their rabbit holes of muted chaotic wonder.

In the 12 collected works of Sue Van Horsen, lightbulbs, eyeglasses, and magnifying glasses provide a level of attention that creates a brilliant second layer of viewing, which leads us to another remarkable aspect of the works displayed in Specimen: Viewing devices abound, as do keys and clues, both figurative and literal. This exhibition is about looking as much as it is about things to be looked at. “Wheel of Flies” by Norm Reed pulls the eye via a large magnifying glass over a drawing of a fly. The magnifier is bolted inside what appears to be a splayed-out clockwork automata including a tightly wound flywheel — hence the title’s plural play on words.

According to curator Mills, Jim O’Mahoney and his wonderfully offbeat Santa Barbara Surfing Museum inspired this exhibit. O’Mahoney’s pun-filled work features small change that is really small and a graphic roadside attraction.

Sculptor Tracy Beeler’s “Human Jerky and Other Delights” provides the darkest vision of the show. Here you’ll find a pair of ram horns painted red that would please Hellboy and the aforementioned human jerky, both of which contribute to the distinctive carnival-sideshow atmosphere. Step right up and see Michael Long’s “Percy the Carrier Chickadee” preserved under glass and complete with backpack and aviator glasses. Stories abound here as you contemplate the origins of the embalmed cobra or the tiny baby saddle shoes with one missing lace.

There’s more to see, including Dan Levin’s waterfall of objects in “Contents of Calder’s Cabinet,” Mills’s own antique newsstand that includes fake magazines like “Wood Chipper Weekly” and “Drudgery Magazine,” a stereoscopic display by Ethan Turpin, and Dug Uyesaka’s cornucopia of personal and familial curiosities. Driving home the point of the exhibition are brilliant short bursts of narrative audio created by Jonathan Smith. They instantly evoke the imaginative existence of objects not present and/or apocryphal, including a lead-lined box containing a radioactive piece of Chernobyl that you should open for “no more than three seconds.” This audio part of the exhibit proves our irresistible fascination with objects and their stories.

Despite the cacophony of images in Specimen, one simple piece stands out as the most moving. “Morose” by Uyesaka depicts a broken baby elephant puppet whose head rests upon a red stone displayed under glass. Its sense of lost childhood and forgetfulness shows how a few simple objects in the hands of an artist can move our emotions. n


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Nice story which makes me want to catch the show. But why must I look up the address of this gallery? It's something too often required by "The Independent." True, Santa Barbara isn't that large but not everyone knows where everything is.

aew42 (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2013 at 10:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

208-C Santa Barbara St, in the funk zone! Don't miss this show!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2013 at 2:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tomorrow night, July 12th - Art Zone SB, a funk zone art walk. Art's Fund, MichaelKate Interiors and wall space gallery are all open until 8pm. For more information -

wall_space (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Local news media here in SB continually leave out information about LOCATION. Accident reports in the News-Press and on KEYT frequently fail to mention cross streets or neighborhood names or sometimes even the specific block an incident occurred. The basic tenet of journalism is to attempt to anticipate most, if not all, of the questions the reader or viewer may reasonably be expected to have about the subject. You know, the old when, where, what, who and how.

emptynewsroom (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2013 at 3:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"And more terrible still, was the likeness, was the magisterial certainty with which his physical peculiarities were all recorded and subtly exaggerated.
Private. Not to be opened. He had disobeyed the injunction; he had only got what he deserved.
And he had thought her a simple-minded, uncritical creature! It was he it seemed, who was the fool.
He felt no resentment towards Jenny. No, the distressing thing wasn't Jenny herself; it was she and the phenomenon of her red book represented, what they stood for and concretely symbolised. They represented all the vast conscious world of men outside himself; they symbolised something that in his studious solitariness he was apt not to believe in. He could stand at Piccadilly Circus, could watch the crowds shuffle past, and still imagine himself the one fully conscious, intelligent, individual being among all those thousands. It seem, somehow, impossible that other people should be in their way as elaborate and complete as he in his. Impossible; and yet, periodically he would make some painful discovery about the external world and the horrible reality of it's consciousness and its intelligence. The red notebook was one of these discoveries, a footprint in the sand. It put beyond a doubt the fact that the outer world really existed."
It is just deserving of it's depictions; all of them. However brutally honest the fool finds the impossibility of it to exist, they do. He doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
Could it be, that in the midst of all his sound and full fury, came across a painting; to which he regarded as signifying nothing, and horrifyingly found that he grew a tail?
It doth take a town to raise an idiot,
thank you.

sbsavage (anonymous profile)
July 17, 2013 at 9:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)


Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 17, 2013 at 10:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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