Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review: Moan: Pleasure and Pain

Posted By on Sat, Mar 6, 2010 at 9:54 AM

UPDATE, 9:30 a.m., March 11: The moving sheet work is by Courtney Matthews, not Aaron Graves. The change is reflected below.


We live in a sex-crazed society, mostly due to what we repress (so we’re told). Moan: Pleasure and Pain, which opened last night at GOCA 1420, opens the gates wide. Taboos, sexual violence and above all, the interplay between pleasure and pain are confronted in this fascinating show.

Untitled by Olivia Lundberg recalls the violence of The Bacchae
  • Olivia Lundberg
  • "Untitled" by Olivia Lundberg recalls the violence of The Bacchae.

A part of UCCS’ City Dionysia project (for more on that, click here), Moan is a collaboration of 10 faculty and 10 students who were asked to respond to the idea of a moan or the themes surrounding the Greek tragedy The Bacchae (which TheatreWorks will produce starting March 11). The works borne out of these ideas are sometimes harsh, but thoroughly well-executed and deeply intriguing.

Upon entering the gallery, you find that the space feels oddly bare, a strange warehouse of unnameable paraphernalia. Only one key and book of text near the entrance provide names, material information and brief artists' statements. Numbers for each piece are scrawled in pencil on the white walls.

The effect first seemed cheap, but it grew on me. Without a name or title to help guide you or hint at any meaning, you’re on your own to interpret the works. This fits Moan ‘s rawness; nothing fancy, nothing fussy, just some hardcore work.

Courtney Matthews
  • Caitlin Green
  • Courtney Matthews

Sculpture stands out, both visually and aurally. Along the back wall hang a floating deer and a gyrating red satin sheet. The deer, constructed from taxidermy parts, floats in a yogi-like position, hooves turned up in a cloven “ohm.” Its eyes glow with LED lights, its branch antlers spear a cloud, disrupting a pack of butterflies. Every now and then its jaw jiggles, emitting a cheesy lion’s roar. It’s so cool, but so ridiculous — like most of Matt Barton’s boisterous work, both jocular and weirdly deep.

The sheet piece conveys the sexuality of the show directly. “Pan” by Courtney Matthews' Aaron Graves work plays with the notion of “wrestling under the covers” by way of a hidden (but noisy) contraption that moves constantly in a jumble of soft corners that poke out and fall back in. There may be a wildly amorous party under there, with the number of elbow-, knee- and head-like shapes that cycle around. It struck me as a beast unto itself. Either way, the blushing among us can’t help but feel we’re intruding on something even in a public gallery.

Matt Bartons Shouts of Nothingness
  • Caitlin Green
  • Matt Barton's "Shouts of Nothingness."

You’ll walk right past Cory Drieth’s “please god”; I only saw it from across the gallery. Drieth, who works primarily on elegant wood squares, presents a neon sign saying “please god” in pink cursive. It’s hung almost next to the ceiling with a long cord reaching to a plug near the floor. Like a restrained Bruce Nauman, Drieth captures the recurrent theme of the bridges between pleasure and pain. Its hot-pink coloring triggers an idea of a seedy sex shop or bordello, and its placement is reminiscent of a cartoon word bubble floating like a whispered climax.

Erin Elder tackled the subject of wine and fermented drink as a driving force in Bacchanalian activities. “Smash, Rot, Wait” employs the juices of fruits and alcoholic ingredients left to sit in two large bubbling jugs. "Smash" is really nothing more than giant carafes of pink lemonade, leaving the intellectual effect more touching than the visual.

Maenad of the Night by Mariya Zvonkovich, invites viewers to draw on the piece.
  • Mariya Zvonkovich
  • "Maenad of the Night," by Mariya Zvonkovich, invites viewers to draw on the piece.

Claire Rau’s “Rapine” dangles in the middle of the floor. (Disclosure: Rau was a professor of mine.) A wooden chain hooks into the ceiling and piles lazily on the floor, ending with a black gourd-like object about the size of a bowling pin. Rau explained that the black object, lying so subversively on the ground, is a model of a torture device once thrust into men and women. Today, objects like it are sold as sex toys. The take-home message, however brutal: You can’t have pleasure without pain. It’s worth noting that Rau carved the links of the wooden chain herself, totaling over 20 feet in length.

Moan is an artistic achievement for UCCS. It stews in your mind after you leave; I was still thinking about it the next morning, which is always a good sign. The easily offended won't enjoy it, but no matter what your stance, you will talk about it.

Moan is up through April 2.

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