The Craft show now at Lehman College, curated by Melissa Brown, is well worth a trip to the Bronx. The show’s name is a clever double entendre on the idea of craft. In addition to referencing an art historical discipline that shares a lineage with the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 70s, the show also connotes an idea of witchcraft, magic, and an invocation of the supernatural.
When entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by Jocelyn Shipley’s Scary, Scared, Scarecrow. Shipley debunks the fears associated with the archetypical scarecrow, by displaying a benign, once cute kitty costume smothered in lurid, fake birds. Although these birds do not fear this pathetic creature, there is something still psychologically unsettling about this deconstructed, reconstructed idea of terror for the viewer. Upon further inspection, a ritualistic human-faced mask of the generalized, tribal-fear, Halloween costume-shop variety (complete with long, straight black plastic hair and black and orange face paint) is revealed beneath the sweet kitty’s blank expression, and the kitten has been given DIY, hand- sewn, exaggerated claws and paws that are made of felt. This entire comi-tragic theatrical display stands firmly positioned on the only natural, and real element within all of this, a neat, cube of hay. Although, all the clues point to over the top artifice and just how harmless this creature actually is, there is still something uncannily striking in these elements coming together. Shipley’s failed scarecrow becomes a metaphor for our own imagined fears, which despite existing only in our minds and distracting us from an often, innocuous reality, are not any less terrifying.
Jim Drain subverts the iconography of Pop art with his Untitled (Michael Jackson). On his mid-sized sized sweater, with its muted colors, Drain gives a quiet, somber, and intimate portrayal of celebrity, rather than showing the typically romanticized, glamorous Warholian depiction. The idea of high art is stripped by Drain creating a functional, article of clothing and working in a craft-oriented medium. There is an aura of impermanence and pathos surrounding the piece, which sets it apart from a lot of work that has appeared since the death of Michael Jackson, that is often more of an ironic, tongue-in-cheek statement.
Michael Mahalchik’s disquieting collages mired in quotidian ephemera are another highlight of the show. In Doppelganger, a second-hand miniature pool table is adorned with dirty, threadbare once white socks, a small clump of tangled human hair, and a few hilariously placed stray ribbons, presumably added for decorative value. The table itself is divided in half, with a nearly mirror image appearing on each side of it. The image on each half is comprised of a $10 bill, a lottery ticket, a hologram triangle, a used ink cartridge, and a Jesus pin, encased by a used tape dispenser, a pin proclaiming, “I’m temperamental,” and the same photograph of a not too stunning femme fatale. Stepping a distance away from the collage, the viewer begins to form an image of a face. The two halves form a whole, thus creating the doppelganger. Instead being a nebulous, horrifying being, the true terror of the doppelganger lies in the banality of the human condition. Above the face an elongated burnt out bulb, points to the fact that this being is anything but enlightened, as does the package of Om incense, and the other everyday ephemera. However reductivist this dark view of desires, drives, and aspirations, might be, it still manages to be an eerily accurate, witty piece.