Deer Dad

Marc Swanson: Beginning to See the Light. At the Contemporary Arts Forum. Shows through April 15.

Marc Swanson grew up in New Hampshire, where his father was a Marine, an Eagle Scout, and a hunter. Among many other things, Swanson’s artwork is an elaborate and gay fantasy about his relationship to his father’s deer hunting. In Swanson’s world, Dad’s deer trophies have been overlaid with glitter as if in anticipation of a night out clubbing. In “State of Emergency” (2005), a shiny red deer with black eyes sits on what appears to be its own pelt. Swanson reports that his father gave him the pelt as a souvenir. In the gallery, the effect of this juxtaposition is glossy and brutal. Skinned alive, the deer reveals a new surface, one hard and rich as nail polish. Could it be that for some, the surface is what’s beneath the skin?

For the video installation “Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime” (2006), Swanson collaborated with Neil Gust. The short loop montages found footage of hardcore cruising and disco psychedelia with scenes of Swanson and Gust racing through the woods near Swanson’s childhood home. Access to this video is restricted, as some of the material is very graphic.

There are three series of works that come framed and establish Swanson’s dark and shimmering aesthetic: a pair of “Constellations” done in crystals and pencil on paper, some dark paintings on glass using black enamel and glitter, and three others done on mirrors. The largest piece in the show is a wall drawing called “Target” that deploys the familiar rainbow symbol of gay liberation in the ambivalent form of a giant target.

The most memorable work in the exhibition is sculptural. “Untitled” (2007) takes the deer trophy motif to its logical (for Swanson) conclusion by encrusting a head bearing a full set of antlers with thousands of tiny, jet black crystals. It’s creepy, suggestive, and glamorous all at once-a great combination. The other tour de force here is a life-sized self-portrait of Swanson as a kind of yeti. Called “Killing Moon” after a song from the 1980s, the piece shows a hairy white figure traipsing across some imaginary tundra, clasping twin handfuls of dead rabbits. If the object of the entire show is to make the audience think twice about the origins and aims of all hunt-like human activities, then this image, with its imaginative recreation of past loves as clutches of dead animals, is the most emphatic.

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