Culture- ART FEATURE- Here's the dirt: 1708's earthy installations

Although the recent downpours– and my flooded basement– have extinguished the alarm of impending drought, I was again thinking about water, fertility, and the lack thereof as I drank in Charles A. Gick's contributions to "Overflow," a two-person exhibition of installations and video at the 1708 Gallery in Richmond. (Yes, Richmond. It's summer– take a road trip.)

Gick and architectural sculptor Jill Downen complement each other in a show that prods viewers'visceral responses. Downen's three-part piece, "Uneasy Opposition," plays with audience expectations in the brightly lit front gallery. The art seamlessly melds with the white plaster walls, making them flesh-like as they ripple downward into flabby folds or bulge over a plywood strut propped diagonally and anchored by a sandbag. 

Digging into darker terrain (literally), Gick has painted the rear of 1708 manure brown as a backdrop for his videos and found-object installations addressing "the fertility and futility of communication." To be honest, had he not told me his work metaphorically explores communication, I wouldn't have gotten it (ironic as that is), but the pieces still riveted with their spectacle.

In the middle of the dimly lit gallery, a dark slab of cracked mud stretches across an exaggeratedly long table supported by old-timey fluted legs. Numerous antique bottles and jars of blue, green, and clear glass– partially filled with water and topped by a haphazard array of dented and rusting funnels– sit casting shadows on the table's parched surface.

Nearby a video shows a man repeatedly dribbling water until the stream gradually becomes a torrent. The two components–table and video– collectively form "Water Witching," although they don't quite seem of a piece unless viewed from the far end of the table. Nevertheless, each is individually captivating.

Gick's other sculpture, "Dirt, Water, Spit, and Spoons," features a grid of dusty spoons reaching out from the wall, each bowl proffering a tiny mound of dirt. A large jug of clear liquid (actually spit and water) sits elusively on a metal shelf at the grid's center. The spoons'shadows resemble a chain-link fence, and the overall have-and-have-not effect is arresting.

But the show's most compelling and repellent (in a good, gut-getting way) piece is Gick's hour-long video "Flowers from the Mouth." Here gorgeous flowers bloom grotesquely from framed open lips, spilling out like parasites let loose. At once horrific, comic, fascinating, and erotic, Gick's work is well worth the drive to Richmond.

"Overflow: Jill Downen and Charles Gick" is on view at Richmond's 1708 Gallery through August 19. 319 W. Broad St. 804-643-1708.