VISUAL ARTS REVIEW ‌ Tentacle House 

Never Mind the Tentacles: A streetwise group show is washed out while Redux plays house

click to enlarge Saturday's graffiti show at Elysium Salon was washed out but hardly washed up - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • Saturday's graffiti show at Elysium Salon was washed out but hardly washed up

Tentacle House
On view through Aug. 11
Free
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St., 722-0697

Mother Nature can be a bitch. After the staff of Elysium set up an outdoor art show last Saturday, readying halogen lights for a late-night celebration of local art, a drizzle forced them to drag as many paintings as they could out of the street and into the salon at 4 Liberty St.

Ten minutes later the rain stopped and the organizers were ready to take a second chance on the show. But then the heavens opened and a rainstorm soaked some of the artists and more of the art.

Fortunately, the artists are used to their work being left outdoors in all kinds of weather. The show featured the work of some of the most talented graffiti artists in Charleston and North Chuck: Proton, Destro, Ishmael, Nova, Leder, Dewd, Egroe, Came, Gonzo, Detor, Quiet, and Bars. The art mixed bold, sharp text with darker, more understated images on 4-x-8 pieces of plywood. The colorful tags left outside weren't wrecked by the rain; only some smaller pieces whipped indoors at the last minute looked runny.

Jennifer Sample organized the show. She works as a hair stylist at the Elysium Salon and is an skillful artist in her own right. "This is the first one we've had here," she says, "and we'll try again soon. We're doing it because graffiti artists need a creative outlet without getting into trouble." Sample cites the City's clampdown on street art as another good reason to have a show in a private space.

Some of the artworks were sold and there was enough interest generated by Elysium's attention-grabbing posters to warrant another attempt in the near future. The posters read: "Graffetti (sic) Writers are mean and cruel and have no respect for themselves or others." As they rescued each other's work from the rain, the unflappable artists proved the opposite.

click to enlarge Artist Si Jae Byun's 'tentacle house' at her Redux show is like a surreal camping trip - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • Artist Si Jae Byun's 'tentacle house' at her Redux show is like a surreal camping trip

On the same night, Redux's Tentacle House opened. The whole gallery's been given over to artist in residence Si Jae Byun, who works with video, drawings, sculptures, and installations. The theme of her solo show is communication, something that the Korean struggles with from time to time because English isn't her first language. The most direct reference to this theme is a short stop-motion video with a dial phone and two plastic ears that sit on the cradle. It's partly a play on words (the ends of a handset are called "ears") and partly a call for attention that's never really answered — the phone keeps ringing, but the ears never seem to complete their call. They keep cutting themselves off instead.

The hardest piece to ignore in Byun's show — and the one viewers are inevitably drawn to — is a large, bouncy "Tentacle House" in the Art Center's main space. A white sheet-like outer skin hints at a move to some kind of dream state as you enter the house. Inside you can sit and watch a fast-moving video that's like an animated word association game — a seed grows into a plant, the plant splits and morphs in a bombardment of different images taken from nature and mass manufacture. Since it's an inflatable structure, it's like sitting in a padded cell watching the contents of an unhinged kid's mind spill out.

Other recurring images in the gallery are taken from the artist's childhood and everyday objects like bathtubs and price tags. They're always given a little twist; the tubs are the sclerae of eyes with pupils taking a soak in their tears; the tags look like leaves or petals dangling from a vase.

The tentacles in this show are metaphorical, yet their presence is felt everywhere. Byun is referring to a web of antennae that draw us into her raw world. If her goal is to reflect the constant, overwhelming barrage of information that modern communication technology hits us with, then she succeeds.


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