Thursday, March 31, 2011

Symbol, Index, and Icon

A Deflated Status Symbol

There is an element of pleasure that can be enjoyed through the inventive humor and wit in the work by sculptor Linda Fitz Gibbon. Her exhibition Not your grandmother’s Wedgwood on display at B. Sakata Garo Gallery playfully challenges historical notions of high culture.

Linda Fitz Gibbon, Not your grandmother's
, hand built ceramic, n.d.
Fitz Gibbon utilizes the style of pastel colors and porcelain figures designed in the eighteenth century by Wedgwood, which in turn was inspired by classical Greek and Roman pottery. The Wedgwood design was an exclusive delicate ware popular amongst the English royalty and its elites. Fitz Gibbon adopts this style of pottery as a motif from which to explore and subvert ideas of refinement, status, and tradition.

In Leda & the Swan, Cup Runneth Over Wedgwood Series, a hand built ceramic, Fitz Gibbon quotes the classical myth of Leda that is ravished by Zeus in guise of a swan. Leda is depicted as submerged in the vessel with only arms and legs in sight, embracing a plastic swan. The vessel references ancient Greek calyx-kraters of red and black design, adorned by figurative narrations. Fitz Gibbon duplicates the tradition however in the fashion developed by Wedgwood. The early industrial fabrications are then exacerbated as Fitz Gibbon creates a pastiche of eighteenth-century interpretations of classical pottery. Fitz Gibbon’s krater overflows with reconstructions with a comical nature, which eventually deflates the original meaning. Here, Leda and the swan now embody a twenty-first-century, fatal expression of semiotic entropy.

Indexical Prints

One of the powers of photography is the potential to offer contiguity with cultures, geographies, even ideas through its indexical print. The photography currently on display at Viewpoint Gallery, Beyond Borders: Immigration Images and Stories brings people, communities, and the grappling issue of immigration to the fore.

Beyond Borders features the work of established photographer David Bacon and the studies of Fulbright Fellow Kathya Landeros. Both photojournalists have dedicated their efforts to access and address the transnational experience of immigrants predominantly between Mexico and the United States. Landeros states: “If one can accept that the history of migratory policy toward Mexico has been complicated as we negotiate between our demands for labor and our need for cultural sovereignty, then we can acknowledge that the migrant communities that have developed in Mexico are a manifestation of these complexities.” These images and texts of immigrants constructing community throughout their journey express the fluidity of human adaptation and survival, while highlighting the stymieing nature of political processes.

Kathya Landeros, "Carnaval" when many migrants return
home from the United States
, silver gelatin print, Jalisco,
Mexico, 2008
Landero’s image “Carnaval” when many migrants return home from the United States, a sliver gelatin print taken in Jalisco, Mexico in 2008, captures a season of celebration. Past and present are highlighted in sepia contrasts, as we see the modern American car transposed against colonial architecture. The print allows us to catalog with exactitude a historical trajectory of the present day Carnaval. The event not only offers an opportunity for migrants to return home and participate in a rooted community but also contribute to the transformation of the local.


The whimsical woodwork by John Buck dazzles with fine precision as well as critical commentary. The exhibition Iconography at the Crocker presents a comprehensive collection of the array of methods in which Buck utilizes wood, mastering the unique properties of his medium for an individual language that is accessible to a universal audience.

From woodblock prints to sculptures and an array of shadowboxes, Buck arranges symbols and icons to communicate poignant criticisms. One such icon is the dodo bird, a figure Buck uses as the central focus on a series of prints. Rendered with fine lines behind the bird are monumental structures of religion, education, and government. As the dodo has come to symbolize something that is or will be out of date, Buck draws parallels of this notion with current social and political institutions.

Other works are not as clearly defined however they offer an equal weight in meaning with their suggestions. Nine Quarter Circle from 1996 involves a large square panel against the wall with a freestanding, headless female figure positioned front and center. A bare branch lays across the figure’s shoulders balancing a shadow box on one end and a hanging head in profile on the other. The box on the branch holds delicately carved figures, the large square panel contains recessed boxes with miniature geometrical sculptures, while the hanging head in profile is hollowed out with a box of its own, displaying eyes and possible organs. The entire construction is carved in unfinished wood, and only a quartered circle drawn in graphite unities the arrangement. The composition is surreal, but nonetheless expresses a tension, a teetering, perhaps displaying how our current humanity is trying to hold itself in a balance.