Real/Unreal 

An activist's artistic double-take on Life in These United States.

Reader's Digest humor may be safely benign, but mainstream "real American" political culture has been nasty, brutish, and short-tempered for sometime now — to our detriment. Construing internal politics as partisan war, we've missed global challenges; heady with our Cold War victory, we blithely believed our own Good-Empire PR: our greatness as a people, our pure motives, and the wonder-working power of our markets (which, incidentally, we should resist changing because, good lord willing, we might be billionaires someday). The last superpower standing, praised by Madeline Albright as "the indispensable country" a millennium ago (okay, only eleven years), now looks like another tottering imperial palooka. Had we but known.

It's not that magical thinking was the only option available. The Bay Area is fortunate in its wealth of informed dissent (call it San Francisco Values; say it loud) — a counterweight to officialdom's "faith-based reality." Maria Gilardin is a respected independent activist writer, journalist, and radio producer who explores ecological and globalization issues on the Internet (with free mp3 downloads), on progressive radio, and on CDs. Her web site/radio program, Time of Useful Consciousness (TUCRadio.org), takes its name from aeronautics: "the time between the onset of oxygen deficiency and the loss of consciousness ... the brief moments in which a pilot may save the plane." She's also an engaged political and satirical artist.

Toasting the End of Capitalism at NoneSuch Space is Gilardin's two-pronged take on the state of the nation. Her social-documentarian photographs include "Earthquake, San Francisco Marina," showing a Loma-Prieta-damaged building under TV klieg lights; "Frank Zappa at KPFA," a 1990 portrait of the iconoclastic Mother of Invention, an "electric power source of acerbic intensity"; "Bixby Beach," with its upended auto carcass on the sand; and "Old West Hotel," depicting a playful Lawrence Ferlinghetti at his rural cabin. Her Dadaist/Surrealist montages, scanned and printed as archival giclée prints, include "Farm Wrestling," showing a farmer regarding us sadly as white- and blue-collared arms fight for his property; "Tasting Room," in which a gigantic turkey dinner sits on a showroom floor next to Cadillacs (one afire); and "Hard Rain," a scene of eco-apocalypse, with buildings crumbling and burning, and cars falling from a flaming heaven. Straddling fact and artifice is "No War," a digital image of stacked televisions, camouflage-painted. Can capitalism learn to behave? Stay tuned. Through August 23 at NoneSuch Space (2865 Broadway, Oakland). Paragon-Media.org/nonesuchspace or 510-625-1600.

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