The personal and the political

Alex Lopez limns the bridges between our private lives and distant drama

Alex Lopez' installation at Cactus Bra Space this month captures a lot of content with a bare bones collection of physical objects. It is a hybrid of minimalist structure and political commentary, with a light finish of surrealism.

This is the second of a five-part series of installations called Perhaps a Brief Anticipation of Nature that came out of a video project Lopez scripted. Each of the screenplay's five chapters is now subject matter for installations with separate debuts. His first, "In Search Of," appeared at Three Walls Gallery in 2001; his current exhibition is subtitled "A Day Without Me, Bulletproof."

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer hears an ice cream truck rendition of "Small World." A heavy black curtain keeps the room sufficiently dark. Blue lights, the kind Lopez says were used in spaghetti westerns for night effect, are left exposed overhead. There is also a theater light with colored gels that alternate. Aimed at the corner of the gallery, a green "Kaboom!" shape from comic books alternates with orange flames. The effect is mesmerizing with its simplicity of forms and rhythmic vascillation.

So much has been said about the current war that there's nothing left to say: Lopez merely represents the naïveté of children playing war. Plastic toy soldiers, pointing rifles while their feet are stuck together by synthetic "dirt, unobtrusively line the missing baseboard leading to the corner with its colored light show. Army men have been used before in this artist's work and others', but here they are barely present - so far down, they point their guns at your feet from the shadows of the cave-like outcropping. Meanwhile, the wall hangs ominously over their heads, potentially dropping and crushing them at any moment. Their look of military prowess is compromised, traded in for smallness and fragility.

The opposite corner is a different matter. Raised on stilts, a shoulder-level tabletop holds a disparate scene. Bare wood bleachers line two sides. Unlike real stadium bleachers, these are catawampus and can't stay in the same straight plane. Their wooden perpendicular planes are spare and attractive, like Constructivist or Minimalist sculpture. Lopez fabricated these as reimagined mountain ranges, which explains their irregularities. In the field between them, two rows of white laundry trucks face each other with glowing, miniature headlights. Overhead, the tinkly ice cream truck music sounds huge compared to these miniature vehicles. The ambience is that of a high school football game, only stranger.

Perhaps a brief anticipation of nature:
A day without me, bulletproof.
The second installment

By appointment
Through Jan 7
Cactus Bra Space
106C Blue Star
Lopez is interested in mixtures of memories and confabulation, which create the surrealist aspect of his installation. Here he combines two different true stories into what would have been his film's location. The first, a phone call from his mother telling him that his childhood ice cream man, who gave him plenty of free treats when he didn't have money to buy them, was robbed and killed by teenagers. The white trucks represent the familiar square shape of his truck but their whiteness maintains the minimalist theme. Their former cargo, uniforms, recall the toy soldiers' military uniforms.

Although the trucks' face-off seems confrontational, Lopez explains that the two rows of headlights are creating a safe, lighted path. The second story explains the need for safe crossing. The artist hasn't been able to forget a CNN news report of an 11-year-old Afghani girl who walked 15 miles in the dark, followed and documented by a Western news crew, to pick up a food drop for her family. She gathered the food and set off immediately for home, without stopping to eat anything herself. The artist combines the memory of a kind and generous ice cream salesman who doled out sweets and a young girl's selfless trip to bring home basic rations. Lopez does it without human figures, though, only spare forms and lighting. In a time when media images and words overwhelm us to the point that we tune out tragedy, less really is more.

By Catherine Walworth

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