Culture- ART FEATURE- America the beautiful? Free-for-all at PVCC

As a young girl growing up during the Vietnam War era, I used to festoon my fake-suede fringed vest with buttons bearing slogans like "Power to the People" and "Question Authority" (I choose not to remember, "Never Trust Anyone over 30"). To me, expressing disagreement with the government seemed as American as apple pie.

Which is what gallery director Beryl Solla cleverly served at the opening of Piedmont Virginia Community College's exhibition, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." The pie, however, was the only thing sugar-coated that day in the V. Earl Dickinson Building's North Gallery, where five artists creatively critique U.S. local, national, and global policies.

The pieces range from George Andrews' highly personal video, Red Light Runner– offering an "I fought the law, and the law won" warning– to Elmer Craig's burlap-textured ceramic "runes," impressed with letter blocks that spell out memorable quotes from the Bush administration and other political and military figures.

James Yates' two pieces invoke the American tradition of civil activism in the face of government tyranny by asking viewers to participate in the art. In "Pray For Separation of Corporation and State," peel-and-stick decals emblazoned with the title message fill a lucite holder hanging below a sign that directs viewers to take one and place it "next to the corporate logo of your choice."

Yates' second work, "Redeem Our Flag," features a painted U.S. flag obscured by a black waxy sludge. A sign advises using one of three nails resting in a nearby flag holder to scratch "Thou Shalt Not Kill" into the black, a collective act that reveals the lost red, white, and blue.

Lisa Parker Hyatt Ehrlich's four color-rich paintings take a less direct approach in commenting on the current government's warmongering. Through architecturally precise windows and doorways, the artist offers creepy and surreal glimpses of a bomb-filled world. A blue-eyed elephant lumbers down a bruise-colored corridor in the dreamlike "Bomb ‘Em Back to the Stone Age," as a diadem of missiles shoots from its head.

The most unusual work in the show is Ted Coffey's computerized "sound environment," entitled "Oikami." A written statement explains Coffey's technique and the subject explored— how global military and industrial actions endanger whales— while speakers emit an ever-changing combination of whale songs, electronic noise, and other sounds, creating a piece both beautiful and distressing.

Take in this authority-questioning show, and then go vote. Power to the people, right on!

"Truth, Justice, and the American Way" is on view in the V. Earl Dicksinson Building's North Gallery through November 26. The South Gallery features Christophe Vorlet's "Fear Politics," which also runs through November 26. Piedmont Virginia Community College. 961-5203.