Writhing & glistening

Revolution Gallery director Paul Kotula holds up his thumb to signify that it is a model for understanding a drawing we are looking at and, when projected, a model of understanding all living things.

We are looking at a large graphite, aerial drawing of what appears to be, as unlikely as it seems, a herd of pigs. With his gesture, Kotula is recommending that the compelling drawing &emdash; micropatterns of animals marching in soldierly lines which, like the flow of a river, turn into spinning eddies and then into uncontrollably destructive dead-end whorls &emdash; be seen more like a thumbprint. The large drawing does look decisively like a thumbprint and the implications, especially of its common use as an identity check, provide us with a way to read the other works in Gina Ferrari's latest exhibit.

Ferrari is an extraordinary artist whose interests are in-your-face different from those of most of her peers. Her art engages a complex matrix of image construction, biology, psychology and history; it is executed with an extraordinary array of techniques and materials. In addition to the drawing, in this exhibition we are confronted by two major works &emdash; a startling sculptural chandelier and a frightening room installation &emdash; which collectively bring visions that range from an oozing garden of genetic frenzy to horrific reminders of the Nazi Holocaust, with perhaps some erotic elements as well (after all, where there's sex there's death).

In "Garden Drawing 1," the herding pigs, if that's what they are, compose a compelling figure of the dynamics of a species within the confines of its own genetic and behavioral maze. The drawing might be seen as an analogue to the species itself or to the history of all animal activity. In any case, there's an order within the piece that, at certain points of place or time, turns destructively on itself and seems to be dizzyingly lost, confronting its own end. As a model for cell division, species differentiation or multicultural permutation, there is a certain historical fatalism operating here that bears upon the whole body of Ferrari's work.

In the installation "Garden," some 170 glistening, creamy white snakes are intertwined with some 800 prone, glistening, queasy pink piglets on a field of white. In the overexposed light of the room, with plaster-cast piglets and rubber-molded snakes glazed in resin, a scientific experiment may come to mind, but it's an evolutionary one that has transpired since the beginning of time, which perhaps accounts for the title, "Garden." This garden experiment, with the docility of the piglets, placid in the care of the writhing snakes, may suggest ultimately the evolutionary struggle and balance of the moiling historical swamp.

The "Garden" installation and the chandelier, "Untitled," depend upon "Garden Drawing" as an entry, as a legend (in the map-reading sense) into and around the work. The chandelier is composed of a large tier of scores of severed, plaster-cast feet and a large tier of glistening globules that are at once erotic and ominous (the globules might be a genetic medium!). Both forms are enigmatic and, like the drawing, are read more as an organized image of ideas than as narrative. The brilliant, reflective resin surfaces capture and contain light &emdash; so the piece's uncanny glow makes it all the more enigmatic. In all, the chandelier is a contained moment (unlike the garden installation), closed, hung ironically and painfully, trophylike as well as, itself, a frightening other.

One of Ferrari's earlier chandeliers contained severed tongues, while one of her previous installations presented a room of gagged mouths, both of which brought politically inspired readings about totalitarian governments, specifically Nazi regimes, repression and the genocide of the Holocaust. To be consistent with the rest of Ferrari's work, it is perhaps more rewarding, and more troubling, to see this new show as brilliantly condensed perceptions of the existential nature of all history.

E-mail comments to [email protected]