What's Happening in East Bay Art 

Our critics weigh in on local art.

Lewis and Clark: The Corps of Discovery -- East Bay punks can't compete with the original outcasts of this tragic kingdom. Tattoo Archive takes us back to a time when face tattoos on chicks were hot and faux-hawks could get you killed. The little ink-hole on San Pablo doesn't look like your traditional tattoo shop, what with all the bookshelves and evidence of scholarship. And it isn't. Owner C.W. Eldridge is a Berkeley tattooing legend, writer, and scholar. In commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he threw together a little exhibit of Indian ink on the south wall. With all the aesthetics of a junior high D.A.R.E. exhibit, Eldridge uses push pins, photocopies, and maps to set the scene against a background of brown burlap, all behind a glass case. Considering how many different cultures Lewis and Clark met, and how many different hair and ink styles the Indians sported, one can only imagine the explorers' journals to President Jefferson: "Dear sir, craploads of Injuns everywhere, some with more war stripes than our generals. These guys punch their stripes into their faces with ink-dipped porcupine quills. Suggest smallpox over hand-to-hand combat. -- Best, Lew." (Through July 31 at 2804 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; TattooArchive.com or 510-548-5895.)

Parallel Investigations II -- ProArts' new curator Christian Frock has a special place in her heart for a-literates (people who can read but find it vaguely painful, like bowel gas). She even has this theory about how people never read more than two hundred words per gallery visit. With that in mind, she lets Jason Mortara go buck wild with a spacy video installation (no reading required, assuming you skip the introductory placard). Mortara combines some cool NASA graphics of a Rover mission to Mars with some tape recordings of him mumbling things like "I needed a change," "It makes perfect sense," and, "I'll make sure to write." The whole thing unfolds on a mini projection screen filled with light from a digital projector hooked up to a DVD player and sound system. Ten minutes is a long time to spend looking at any installation, but this one's rocket ships and animation hold your attention to the closing scene, even if the content is underdeveloped. Note to all aspiring installation artists: Fewer words + more pictures = a-literate joy. (Through December 30 at 550 2nd St., Oakland; ProArtsGallery.org or 510-763-4361.)

Rebirth: New Photos of Armenia, Georgia, and the Former Yugoslavia -- Eastern Europe is the new Western Europe: cheap, inviting, and stocked with young blond locals long gone from convalescent homes like Paris or, egad, London. Vaughn Hovanessian stokes Berkeley's wanderlust for the Easy E with more than two dozen digital prints from parts once behind the Iron Curtain or recently cluster-bombed. Unfortunately, he almost entirely ignores the people -- who are rumored to be both limber and friendly -- for architecture studies that would be laughable had they not looked great and sported awesome names like "Ljubljana Bridge, Dubrovnik," "Mostar Bridge, Bosnia," and "Zagreb, Croatia." Hovanessian gets the best of what these war-torn cities have to offer; now he needs to go back for some people. (Through January 8 at Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St.; BerkeleyPublicLibrary.org or 510-981-6100.)

Red-Color News Soldier -- Preglobalization ignorance must've been bliss. The '60s counterculture could comfortably enshrine Mao as a "power to the people"-type thinker while, meanwhile, on mainland China, terror reigned like reverse McCarthyism on crystal meth (you were busted if you were deemed un-Communist, and the purge lasted ten long years). Aspiring cinematographer-turned-news-flack Li Zhensheng captured thousands of these public shamings, kidnappings, and firing squads in black and white. (Through December 17 at Northgate Hall, UC Berkeley)

Trees: A Favorite Subject in Japanese Art -- Auteurs like the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix) and Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) love to rip off the visual tropes of traditional Japanese naturalism because of one word: specificity. These more than two dozen old-school Japanese woodcuts aim at one thing per print -- a moonlit stream, a snow-covered bridge, the contrasting patterns of light in a bamboo forest. Action directors love this kind of object fetishism because it's evocative even without the presence of people or action. The Scriptum-Schurman gallery strips away the bullets and bushido blades from pop conceptions of Japanese art, and what's left is just as dynamic and enthralling. (Through December 31 at 1659 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; Scriptum.com or 510-524-0623.)

The Zine UnBound: Kults, Werewolves, and Sarcastic Hippies -- Do not go to this show without first jacking yourself up on coffee and taking two Valiums. The coffee helps you focus for three hours on the thousands of bizarre drawings, paintings, and installations crammed in this rousing, rambling display of werewolves, nudity, violence, pop culture, color, and collage. (Through December 30 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco; YBCA.org or 415-978-ARTS.)

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