Junkyard Love

 

It’s the Homer Simpson mask, deflated and lifeless, that offends me. It feels personal.

And the one responsible for the atrocity, Lithuanian-born artist Aidas Bareikis, probably knows it.

In The Guard of Sorry Spirit, one of two installations now up at the Grand Gallery, Bareikis shows his attraction to (if not his blatant love for) pop culture but literally trashes it at the same time he glorifies it.

Tagged with graffiti spray paint, the maligned Homer head on the floor toward the front of the giant installation is just one example of this love-hate relationship. It’s easy to spot the head, separated from its familiar rotund body (which, regrettably, doesn’t appear to be anywhere amid the rubble of the rest of the work). Homer confronts us with this uncomfortable question: What does it say about us that our reaction to a decapitated cartoon figure is sadness?

But it’s more than just sad. It’s funny, too. In fact, the entire installation strikes a brave balancing act between the horrible and the amusing — or simply mashes them together.

It’s a sprawling, formless, nearly amorphous work (its dimensions are variable) that resurrects consumer castoffs as it mutilates them. The sculpture seems to begin at the wall, against which some of the pieces lean, and move outward toward the viewer. Amid the mass (or mess) are nine discernible figures, a gathering of apparitions, monsters, clowns and manipulated mannequins of various heights that are celebrating and celebrated, as if frozen in some ritualistic sacrificial death scene. The figures stand with walking sticks (or, perhaps, weapons — Bareikis says he likens his creatures to a gang) and banners made of heavily painted sheets.

Bareikis proudly claims that he finds his materials at thrift stores or rescues them from the anonymity of Wal-Mart shelves. There’s a bit of everything here in terms of media, but Bareikis favors cloth and chooses patterns and colors that add visual texture when applied to the figures. He stretches twisted cloth from the ceiling and ties it to each member of the tribe, connecting them in a complex web and adding to the macabre mood.

One of the characters in the mob looks like a dead rock star, an orange-velvet-clad, rainbow-haired, slouching rebel zombie with a wrinkled-skin mask. (All of the figures have masks for faces.) In true punk fashion, the guy’s jacket and pants are torn. Closer inspection reveals spray insulation foam oozing from his neck, elbows, knees and other joints. The foam infects most of the figures and other sections of the installation, suggesting synthetically created bubbling blood.

Several menacing clowns are also stationed throughout the piece. At the back left is one without arms; his severely damaged mask, looking skyward and covered in thick paint, would be unrecognizable as a clown’s face save for the round red nose. Farther back, an even more abused clown stands armless, big-toothed and big-nosed. Elsewhere lurks Wolverine, whose body is composed of butterfly-decorated bedsheets and comic-book-patterned material. As a group, this motley crew constitutes the “guard” of the title.

Bareikis’ work amounts to a child’s nightmare. Relief comes in playful surprises — a stuffed-toy tiger sitting serenely wrapped in a sheet; the hanging plastic cheeseburger with an American Express card attached; the dog hand puppet; the rainbow-colored child’s swimming flipper; the plastic miniature cans of orange juice, cola and corn soup.

In the smaller gallery is the less extravagant but brighter Daydreaming Dead, Navigator Golden Gate, which is almost entirely gold. Here, Bareikis’ figures are just as menacing but diminutive, and overall the piece is more ornate, resembling pirate booty. Whereas The Guard of Sorry Spirit uses cloth, Daydreaming is constructed mostly of plastic. Its toy swords, skeletons and fake pearls could be the spoils of a Bareikis raid on U.S. Toy. It’s more delicate and less ravaged — a kinder, gentler, smaller nightmare.

One that also transforms junk into something sublime.

 

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