Metamorphosis 

Natural history gets weirdly humanized in Flaming Furbelows.

With energy and environmental concerns necessitating global change, we're seeing artists reconsider mankind's ambiguous place within nature and yet apart from it. The drawings of Kate Eric (aka Kate Tedman and Eric Siemens) and the soft sculptures of Marina Vendrell Renaut combine natural motifs and materials to suggest a dynamic cosmos in which hierarchical categories dissolve, freeing their constituent elements to recombine in mysterious mutations. The artworks' occasional sexual implications are suggested by the show's sly title, Flaming Furbelows — ruffles or flounces set alight. Remember Oppenheim's furry teacup and Duchamp's verbal desecration of Mona Lisa, "L.H.O.O.Q."?

Kate Eric shows heavily impasted acrylic paintings on paper entitled Bug Wars that explore the "natural purgative and creative powers of violence." With their sprawling compositions of tangled "giant anacondas, quivering intestinal tracts, furry placentas, monsters giving birth to rooster heads, and ... other hellhounds (Nirmala Nataraj)," they're the hybrid offspring of fairy tales and comics (Arthur Rackham and Basil Wolverton come to mind) and Surrealism in both its realistic (Tanguy, Dali) and abstract (Miro, Masson) modes. One could consider them as a kind of automatic (trance-induced) drawing except for the intricate detail required to delineate these pellucid submarine worlds of armored fish, snakes, birds, and insects set amid (or trapped within) interlacing tentacles, tufts, tendrils, and billowing diaphanous membranes. There's a perverse beauty in the cosmic war of all against all.

Renaut deconstructs and reassembles plush toys and music boxes in order to poke fun at and make peace with the comical aspects of human mammalian existence, especially the various orifices and fur patches that we higher primates cultivate so assiduously. Renault employs knitting and crocheting, with their domestic, cheery associations, to create cozy yet absurdist Bourgeoisean homes for her scavenged objects. "Coochie Boo Hoo" is a pink column of cascading intestinal casings fashioned from old sweaters and socks. "Fungus" is a bundle of white faux fur from which dangle crocheted mushrooms, suggesting a certain je ne sais quoi — as do the radio-controlled rolling critter-floats of "Reanimated," with their furry domed shells and snaking crocheted necks. The "Musical Marmot" series comprises five of the weasel-like animals (recycled from stoles) hanging from pink loops that erupt from their throats, with crocheted guts spilling from their midsections; fuzzy pompoms below, when pulled down (to a ratcheting/racking sound), activate lullaby-tinkling hidden music boxes. Flaming Furbelows runs through May 2 at Johansson Projects (2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). JohanssonProjects.com or 510-444-9140.

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