Domestic violence: SSG brings war home

Mary Schepisi, "Guns, Birds, and Words #8: No Violence."
Mary Schepisi, "Guns, Birds, and Words #8: No Violence."

My father made a profound observation while visiting PVCC's "Cut and Paste" show last week. He said he likes art that has meaning but which also offers "mystery," prompting contemplation and allowing viewers to bring to it their own interpretations and associations. His words resonated when I took in Second Street Gallery's current "Conflict/Interest" exhibition, in which war-inspired works are laden with meaning, but–- with a few exceptions–- not much mystery.

The nine artists who contribute to the show take an iconic approach to dealing with war by working and re-working the standard symbols: machine guns, uniformed soldiers, helicopters, etc. And many stick to a standard palette–- red, black, gold, and army green–- although two artists, Mary Schepisi and Eyal Danieli, opt for an in-your-face irony by using pink in two pieces.

A running theme in "Conflict/Interest" is the anonymity of war. Not only do soldiers lose their individuality in uniform, but battles also blur together in their repetition of violence. Richard Kraft's four oversized silhouettes, printed in graphic red ink on white paper, depict uniformed men from various historical conflicts. Their outlines vaguely suggest context, such as the shape of a WWI-era trench coat or Fidel Castro's cap, but for the most part, they've been reduced to action figures, a point driven home by Kraft's entire project, "100 Soldiers for a Revolution," printed on 2" x 1.5" cards that call to mind children's trading cards or stickers. (Collect them all!)

Kraft's piece illustrates another thread running through the exhibition's works: a concern for how war has become an accepted part of our everyday lives. Mona Hatoum uses casts of toy soldiers in two pieces to convey war's repetitive futility, and Mary Shepisi sews small needlepoint tapestries of guns and helicopters. Eric Parnes takes a slightly more specific approach by using gold leaf, popular in Middle Eastern homes, to gild weapons.

But with the exception of Naomi Falk's "Re (Called) Quilt Project," in which the artist sews vertebra-like pieces of porcelain, each representing a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, under sheer organza in a seemingly endless quilt, the works in "Conflict/Interest" are mostly one-trick ponies. Once the viewer "gets it," there's little reason to keep looking. Which is a shame since SSG's past war-themed shows by Sandow Birk, Andrew Schoultz, and Anne Kessler Shields offered multivalent reflections on armed conflict that were both relevant and rich with mystery.

"Conflict/Interest," featuring work by Eyal Danieli, Naomi Falk, Mona Hatoum, Tim Hetherington, Richard Kraft, Eric Parnes, Steven Rubin, Mary Shepisi, and Suara Welitoff, is on view through March 27 at Second Street Gallery. 115 Second St. SE. 977-7284.