Whenever I get the chance, every couple of days when I need to shore up the trivial crap that rattles around my brain and collect my thoughts, I make a To Do list. It helps me to prioritize. Filter. Not procrastinate.
Of course it doesn't really help with any of those things — I just waste more time making the list — but there's something minutely satisfying about crossing off a deed once it's done.
One of today's to-dos was a visit to Redux Contemporary Art Center, where a new two-hander covers biomechanical sculpture ranging from delicate glass to ugly sprouts of medical tubing. Boris Shpeizman creates ornate yet skimpy glass costumes that show off his artistic skill with the medium and take the piss out of fashion modeling at the same time, contrasting titivation with titillation. A video projected on one wall of Gallery No. 2 shows models wearing the see-through sculptures, walking in synch with the hiss and clomp of an installation next door. The effect is creepy and strangely itchy.
In three years of covering visual arts for the CP, I've seen shows that have made me yawn, blush, giggle, and groan. Rarely does a contemporary show make me feel dirty, and none have ever made me itch. Malena Burgmann's Gift and the Baggage of Body, in Redux Gallery No. 1, does both.
The earthworms suspended over an air pump have something to do with it. So does the dead cat, parts of its skull showing through its parchment skin and flakes of God-knows-what underneath it. Then again, it could be due to a nearby collection of moldy-looking paintings with mouths full of crooked teeth and hog hair.
Using dead things in art is nothing new. Everybody remembers Londoner Damien Hirst's infamous 1992 conceptual-art installation "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" at the Saatchi Gallery — a 13-foot tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde. More recently, Sabrina Brewer used taxidermy at Redux to re-create a "Fiji mermaid," displayed during 2005's Piccolo Spoleto. But Brewer tamed that beastie by giving it a cryptozoological pedigree and caging it in a freakshow context. Bergmann doesn't give us any such let-out. She's purposefully playing with dead things, confronting mortality, and trying to deal with the death of her stepmother.
Bergmann shares her grief, or at least her fascination with the "journey from present to past," using the EKG print of her stepmom's last minutes on earth, spooling past medical supplies and wheelchair parts. She comes across as not so much a sick puppy as a curious, mechanically inclined child poking at transience with a stick.
With "To Do List," she catalogs essential needs (drink, sit) with darker corporeal ones (suck, drain wound). Her list is hooked up to a wasp's nest by tubes, and teeth dangle from the canvas on wire strands. With her quietly eerie work, Bergmann reminds us that life is short and we shouldn't waste our time on vain pursuits — like making To Do lists.