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George Ferrandi, "Snowbirds and Streetfights" installation shot. Images courtesy of the artist and The Bower.

'Snowbirds and Streetfights' exhibit seeks new context at the Bower

The gaggle stands in silent assembly, each diminuitive, butter-yellow duck perched upon his own private concrete island. The six - seven if you count the severed duck head - seem like innocuous caricatures of the real animal, with thick, bowling pin bodies, wide, rounded beaks, and fleshy baby doll arms instead of wings. They stare blankly forward from expressionless white eyes. Yet one carries a sharp gardening spade; another clutches a pointy paring knife; one duck is missing both arms; and another tightly holds a severed limb in his left hand. A duck slightly offset from the rest holds a black metal lunchbox, with a frazzled cloud of dark black thread suspended above him. In one corner of the room, two ducks interact in conversation bubbles. "But wouldn't you rather feel that than nothing?" one asks, cupping a coffee mug. The other, butcher knife in hand, responds: "No."

The small figures featured in the current exhibit, "Snowbirds and Streetfights," at the Bower are morose rather than menacing - cartoon-like sculpture akin to illustrator Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies. The three-dimensional characters are creations of Brooklyn, New York-based artist George Ferrandi, whose duck is present in a series of illustrations

By appointment only
Through September 7
The Bower
1114 S. St. Mary's St.
featuring a simplistic, line-drawn, masked cartoon character - and unlikely hero - called Super Silver Monkey. In one panel, Super Silver Monkey is reclining in the bathtub, speaking idly to an approaching duck brandishing a butcher knife: "Your doubt is becoming less beautiful ... " It is unclear whether the duck is a sidekick to Super Silver Monkey, or an assassin attempting to kill him.

In response to this ambiguity, Ferrandi worked for four days to put together an installation on one of the walls at the gallery, deconstructing the phrenology of the duck via arrows pricking neatly from his painted head: He is sometimes yellow, sometimes white; doleful; a sexy Southern rocker ("I thought he would be taller," Ferrandi notes); dead, apparently, possibly from drowning in a flood ("not all ducks can swim, dude"). Is the duck a ghost of one of Super Silver Monkey's failed rescue attempts? Or is the weapon-wielding fowl a potential assassin, after all? "One gets tired of waiting," Ferrandi writes on a sub-arrow. The dichotomy of the artist's deceptively simple caricatures - her "snowbirds," a term for fragile retirees who migrate south in pursuit of sunshine - is as complex and convoluted as her writings on the wall, speculative, man-made phrases that extend indefinitely beyond the gallery space. Yet the duck's human attributes ("holds the leverage of complicity," "never clever enough to compensate fully f-f-for shortcomings") can be wiped away in a brushstroke, leaving behind an inanimate plaster duck who cuts a cynical figure to cynical eyes.

In addition to Ferrandi's work, the exhibit features a series of snowman paintings by Gainesville, Florida-based artist John Orth. His work in the "Snowbirds and Streetfights" exhibit is reflective of his pen-and-ink illustrations of his subject of choice: the snowman. The artist's "A Field Guide to the North American Snowman" reads

John Orth, Snowmen Courting, 24 x 30 inches, acrylic on wood, 2002. Images courtesy of the artist and The Bower.
like a blueprint of his painted compositions. The guide illustrates the snowman in his various states of repose: identification, phrenology, facial expression, habitat, courtship, measuring distance, dreaming, at play, and shivering through (to which Orth includes a poetic parenthetical "wishing against the first blush of robins"). Orth's muted pastel paintings look like they belong in a children's book, but for his subjects' bizarre mutations. In "Courtship," two snowmen (or a snowman and a snowlady) are locked in perpetual embrace, their torsos skewered by a wooden ladder, which the loving couple will share as arms - until a wave of natural warmth melts away their bodies, and exposes the embrace as a mundane, everyday object that functions without love.

Ferrandi and Orth previously collaborated on a project known as Cloud Seeding: Circus of the Performative Object, a conceptual vaudeville that tours and operates out of a modified flatbed trailer. The mobile artists' adaptability is demonstrated in their exhibit at the Bower, which will stay up through September 7, then pack up and ship out like so many snowbirds seeking a new context. •

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