Song of the Earth 

Two artists examine nature through technology.

A century after abstraction supplanted the mimetic (i.e. realistic) basis of representational art, and fifty years after the advent of an increasingly pervasive media counter-reality, the idea of representing nature seems almost hopelessly anachronistic — and, therefore, perhaps, timely. (Let's hope it's not just futilely compensatory scrapbooking while the world burns.) In Earth Engines, two versatile multimedia artists inspired by the great outdoors create contemporary art about the given world.

Barry Underwood describes his surreal color photographs as documentations of "dioramas and full-scale installations [that he fabricates, exploring the] issues of imagination, narrative and the potential of the ordinary ... [through the prisms of] contemporary paintings, cinema and land art." His long-exposure photographs depict enigmatic, even paranormal, phenomena set in stunning landscapes espied at the golden hour of dusk, and are thus "cross-pollination[s] between traditional photography and theater," the Sierra-Club purism of Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter enriched with the "intrusions and interventions" of John Divola and Andy Goldsworthy. In "Rodeo Beach," black rocky crags rise from vaporous (time-exposed) waters as if in a Chinese painting, while, on the beach, electric yellow rings hover like fireflies, emitting glowing red halations. In "Fishes II," the still dark green waters reveal a circle of yellow lights or bubbles; yellow light-mists appear beneath the grasses of a mountain meadow in "Norquay (Yellow)" and below the exposed roots of trees in "Bow Falls" and "Aurora (Green)"; in "Trace (Blue)," brilliant blue icicles/stalagmites rise from the water; in "Line (Yellow)," a yellow Roman-candle-ish "zip" stands athwart a trail, spitting sparks.

Oliver DiCicco is a sound recorder and musician who crafts nontraditional musical instruments (e.g., Trylon, Oove, Picocaster, and Crawdad) that engage both eye and ear, in the tradition of the musical visionary, Harry Partch. A rowing aficionado, DiCicco is showing two kinetic sculptures inspired by "the ribs of a ship, the motion of waves, the song of the whale, kelp swaying in the infinite ebb and flow." The larger piece, "Sirens," is a chain of oscillating steel wishbone structures that suggest tuning forks and gigantic whale vertebrae; the breathy flutelike sounds emanating from their rocking motion reinforce both interpretations — along with the Bobbing-Bird oil pumps of Southern California and beckoning mythological mermaids. DiCicco's smaller piece, "Anemone," a ring of humming/clattering metal rods oscillated by a motor, imitates the swaying tentacles of those plantlike marine filter-feeding animals. A rare performance by DiCicco's ensemble, Moebius Operandi, takes place Saturday, December 12, at 6 p.m. Earth Engines runs through January 9 at Johansson Projects (2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). or 510-444-9140


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