Many art aficionados, including those at the leading fantastic art website, Phantasmaphile.com, compare Audra Kohout’s box assemblages to the those of the great surrealist Joseph Cornell, while noting that hers are “more personal” or even “emotional.” I would add “visceral” and “protean” as well. Kohout seems to be a shapeshifter in the guise of a middle-class Mid-City mom, and her boxes, like the phone booth in Doctor Who, are vehicles for her travels to other worlds. Where Cornell was like a detached, eccentric bird man obsessed with ballerinas and symbolic objects in perfect equipoise, Kohout meanders between the sweet and the sardonic like a mythic Earth mother who knows that without the darkness there is no light and, try as we may, the two can never be sundered but only balanced. In other words, this is some pretty weird, but elegant and eloquent, stuff.
In accordance with Carl Jung, her “other worlds” reflect inner worlds, and many of her doll-like figures hang from strings like puppets who assumed a wayward life of their own. In Titania, a fairy princess with long, shapely legs stands on a pedestal holding a big wand over a fallen male puppet. Is she trying to revive him, or did she smite him with it? Zeitgeist (pictured) features a pair of mythic nymphs; one rides a unicycle on a rail, the other has fallen or jumped off. Standing on her head, her doll legs are spread wide to reveal her genitals. Are they flirting or engaged in kabuki combat? Kohout’s flair for transmogrification is epitomized by Under the Linden Tree, where a pair of pixie dolls are performing an arcane ritual. Originally the title of a medieval German poem about a trysting place, Unter den Linden became the name of a Berlin boulevard lined with statues of generals in a startling example of how something originally identified with love eventually became associated with war. Kohout gives playfully eloquent form to humanity’s most complicated and ironic impulses.
Perchance to Dream: Box assemblages by Audra Kohout
Through Aug. 31
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300