Two artists come to terms with unreality.

Tut's return to San Francisco raises old issues about the art object's multiple identities as locus of mana, or magical power, as embodiment of social belief, and, ultimately, as historical artifact. Our secular, scientific, materialist culture eschews the notions of ultimate truth, scientific or artistic, so it's interesting to speculate on how future societies will view us based on what future archaeologists unearth from our buried treasure troves. Will future art historians be able to reanimate Jasper Johns' Decoy? The au courant issues of representation and meaning, explored by conceptual artists Kelsey Nicholson and Ken Fandell, viewed in a wider perspective, however, fit right into the continuum of art. We walk like Egyptians.

Nicholson is known for her installations treating natural themes with synthetic, artificial materials — woodsy environments of wood-grained laminate populated by cardboard model-kit-style birds. They're both a parody of the commercial/utopian fakery Americans love (e.g., Disneyland, Las Vegas, planned communities, and a humorous mash note to creativity and confusion). Nicholson, who forages for materials at Home Depot, says, "Green carpet is exactly the same as grass for me, wood paneling is exactly the same as a tree." Here she's exhibiting Camouflage Birds, life-size wooden models of mallard, owl, hawk, and heron that have been collaged with rectangles of printed paper at various levels of resolution — digital plumage or pixelated bad hi-def mummy wrappings. The birds rest atop wooden shelves surrounded by trees and terrain made of wooden shingles or fieldstones, actually shims, that rhyme visually with the faux feathers. Nicholson also is showing photos mounted on plywood from her Flat Land series, small epiphanies extracted from the phenomenal world.Fandell, too, is showing photographs, but with a more conceptual take. The four larger pieces here derive from the artist's fascination with the art/science nexus, which has already resulted in huge 4'x10' foot composite photographs of hundreds of clouds and long, table-mounted arrays of satellite photos. Here he's investigating the 2003 Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, a million-second exposure looking back in space-time thirteen billion years to just after the big bang. In "Part 1," Fandell ironically double-prints the appropriated image out of register and focus so that it appears to be a 3D image for which we lack the requisite red and blue specs (for Doppler-shifted light waves?). Another photo depicts the handwritten fraction 12,999,999/13,000,000 — what we don't know about the big picture. "Evermore" assembles multiple photos of the Hubble telescope itself into an irregular white circle set against the blackness of space — a ring like a particle collider, or 1950s-style space station, or spiked medieval instrument of enhanced interrogation, or the mythic serpent Ouroboros, eating its own tail. Through July 25 at Traywick Contemporary (895 Colusa Ave., Berkeley). or 510-527-1214


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