Ever notice all those banners around town with fleurs-de-lis and "Louisiana Rebirth" blazoned on them? A nice gesture, but we're mostly still waiting. Yet maybe now, as we approach the one-year anniversary of you know what, rebirth may really be just around the corner for this wary, flood-ravaged town. For instance, we're told that untold billions in federal reconstruction money will soon come splashing down on us like a piata from Fort Knox. That can't hurt. Compounding the aura of renewal are several new shows about town dealing with the subject of childhood. But while art can sometimes seem oracular, most of this stuff is ... very open to interpretation.
Consider Monica Zeringue's realistic yet dreamlike mixed-media drawings of children at Heriard-Cimino. While they may make sense at some profoundly Freudian level, these ethereal depictions of little girls at play seem sure to elicit more than their share of confusion. Delicately rendered with an almost fetishistic flair for detail, there is an oddly suggestive vibe about them, and even though nothing risqu is going on, it's the sort of thing that could drive the thought police even nuttier than they already are. They may be suggestive, but trying to figure out exactly what they suggest could leave even Dr. Phil at a loss for words.
Mound is a drawing of four nearly identical little girls wearing tank tops, white panties and nothing else. Three crouch atop a mound of tiny leaves of cut white silk, their long tresses cascading down like a brunet waterfall, flowing into the hair of the fourth little girl crouching at its base. Hmm... In Stack, the four little nymphets are standing on each other's heads and shoulders in a vertical column, but it's not cheerleader practice. Again, the hair flows together in long, darkly meandering rivulets, and while visually intriguing, we have no idea what's really going on here. Born Again depicts a girl presenting scissors to another, nearly identical little girl, only here the first emerges from the torso of her twin, and no, it's not just some strange science escapade, but rather something more dreamlike. From there it just gets weirder, yet the tone is thoughtful and sensual. Is Zeringue putting us on? In fact, she says her little dream girls "are actually reduced versions of me ... going back to a time of innocence, before adult mistakes. I am exploring identity, how the parts work together to make an individual." Using fine thread as well as graphite to define lines and shadows, Zeringue weaves reality and illusion into intriguing, psychologically charged ambiguities.
More ingnue intrigue appears in Audra Kohout's surreal box assemblages, but here the figures are cobbled from bits of dolls, old figurines and antique machine parts. As backdrops, her boxes are like operatic stage sets for scenes not unlike surreal fairy tales. In Script, two disjointed little women gaze into a crystal globe that might just be a tiny light bulb. One has fairy wings, and the other's neck is a spring. Dressed in antique lace, they peer intently into the crystal orb seemingly unaware of the strings that bind their limbs to the Victorian-era gears of the anonymous mechanism protruding through the wall of their paisley patterned grotto.
Bacchanal is a long, panoramic tableau where fantastic little figures enact surreal dramas like escapees from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Kohout's precisely crafted figures often appear seemingly in dialogue with each other, or sometimes even with themselves. In Acrobat, an ethereal, two-headed doll dressed in silk and lace plays a duet with herself on long, curving fairy horns. A tusk projecting from each of her heads suggests unicorn ancestry, but her body is as sleek and poised as a ballerina. Kohout's box sculptures are unique little worlds unto themselves, and here as elsewhere her figures suggest that life is a balancing act as we struggle to cobble all those antique pieces we carry around with us -- our past experiences -- into a coherent whole. It isn't always easy, and can only be done through imagination, insight and ingenuity. Here as in the city, the present is recycled from the past, and the future is whatever we make it.
- Audra Kohout's surreal box sculptures suggest psychological fairy tales in which life is a balancing act and the present is cobbled from pieces of the past.