The Anxiety That Artists Feel 

A two-gallery group show names anxiety as its subject, but the works complicate more than substantiate the term.

For A Trapped in Your Mind Feeling, Lucy Puls and Heidi de Vries set out to organize a group exhibition about anxiety. The premise is eyebrow-raising, for anxiety is a rather nebulous concept. Of course, everyone can agree to an understanding of the term as a state of apprehension or dread, but even this rings as something of a catchall — a convenient psychiatric invention; here, curatorial rubric.

In fact, few of the eleven included artists cite anxiety as a creative motivation and fewer aim to directly express it. Rather, the works in the exhibition, which is split between the neighboring spaces Transmission Gallery and Aggregate Space, suggest their own unique flavors of dis-ease, eluding the label of "anxiety" and calling for more individualized diagnoses.

Themes of displacement and death pervade a number of the works. Kirk Crippens, for instance, photographs an elderly woman's home the day that she moved to an assisted-living facility. In these bracingly clear prints, signs of the ghostly subject's recent presence — the imprint of her body on a bed, for example — are consumed by an air of profound emptiness.

An analogous and ultimately more memorable gesture occurs in Emma Spertus' "Spirit of the Age," a photograph of a car dealership showroom on Oakland's Auto Row that was abandoned during the recent recession. Composed across a grid of panels converging in a corner of the gallery, the work beckons the viewer to look in but does not permit the kind of inspection that Crippens' super-high resolution prints do, for a layer of particles — purposefully captured by the artist through a process of scanning dusty prints ­— keeps one at a pane's remove from the scene. In effect, a viewer has the disturbing sensation of being the one displaced, rather than the cars.

Melissa Pokorny and Sandra Ono, meanwhile, present sculptural works that, while perhaps unsettling in form, do not register anything quite like the dread that Spertus' piece does. Pokorny, through a jaggedly tiled plane of shadowy images, exposes a peculiar cave site that has been tawdrily converted into a linoleum-decked tourist trap and, weirdly enough, Pentecostal church site. The images may be dark, but one detects a certain reveling in the site's absurd contradictions.

Ono creates surreal sculptures, each composed of a single type of household item (rubber band, sandwich bag, party streamer) and glue, that vaguely evoke the body's viscera. Her meticulous process denatures the objects as such, bringing forth the strange, synthetic nature of their material bases. Again, Ono's works suggest a meditative process quite contrary to conventional understandings of anxiety.

This is not to speak of the show's four video works, which are all on display at Aggregate Space. Suffice it to say that they continue to drive home the show's repeated revelation about anxiety: that there are as many types as there are people.

A Trapped in Your Mind Feeling runs through May 4 at Aggregate Space (801 West Grand Ave., Oakland), 510-832-3807 or AggregateSpace.com; and through May 18 at Transmission Gallery (770 West Grand Ave., Oakland), 510-835-2626 or TheTransmissionGallery.com

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