Auto body commentary shown at SDWC

Friday, November 7, 2008

If not for the carpeted coziness of the exhibition space, visitors to the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center Gallery this month might get the sense that they have wandered into an auto repair shop from another planet.

The gallery’s current show, “Congested Highway,” with works by Massachusetts-based artist Dana Filibert, features sculptures that evoke automobile parts while also assuming a strange, organic quality of their own. Other works humorously riff on forms of domestic appliances like the vacuum, and a number of Filibert’s drawings round out the exhibition.

The show centers around two larger sculptures positioned near each other on the floor of the gallery. “Rubbish” is a jaunty pink-and-yellow vacuum cleaner. A feather duster extending from the sculpture evokes plumage and a gastric tangle of tubes attached to the back adds interesting tension to the appliance’s otherwise simple, retro aesthetic.

The other large sculpture, titled “Congested Highway,” appears to be a hybrid structure, with an oversized tailpipe growing out of a bulbous, distended form. The mouth of the tailpipe is filled with globs of black material resembling sludge. As Filibert explains in her notes on the exhibition, this work fits in with her broader critique of the American obsession with big, powerful cars as forces of destruction, detrimental to both the culture and the environment.

Filibert continues to develop this theme in “Blazin,” a terse sculpture consisting of three downward-slanting, red-and-blue-striped tubes affixed to the wall. These also resemble tailpipes, but their drooping effect contradicts the hot rod assurance of the work’s title.

For those who want to see Filibert’s work as a commentary on the kind of male sexuality that requires a giant car to feel secure, there is certainly enough to support such a reading. But Filibert’s work is stronger for remaining relatively noncommittal and foregrounding sly humor over directness. Some of the works in the show incorporate bicycle horns as elements in larger, whimsical forms. Other pieces are so small that their presence barely registers at first. The viewer is initially attracted to the largest sculptures and only gradually notices the number of minute, fragile-seeming works that cluster on the edges of the gallery. With these haiku-sized pieces, Filibert challenges us to recognize how much we ourselves have bought into the culture of bigness without even knowing it.

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