Despite her own colorfully pictographic epidermal adornments, Jessica Goldfinch thinks tattoos have had it, at least in America. What was once outre is now blase, but Russia is different, especially its prisons, where tats still rule. There tattoos are not just edgy but also vital markers of status and identity, in symbolism that takes on unexpected new twists because of the way the old U.S.S.R. reversed the roles of religious and political icons. A Jesus tattoo symbolizes state persecution more than religious redemption, but a crucifixion scene on an inmate's chest indicates a master thief, so Goldfinch's collage painting of a crucifixion scene with an onion-domed structure in the background is titled Prince of Thieves. But a tattoo of Lenin on the chest, like the one seen in Father Lenin (pictured) offered protection from being shot in the heart by a guard since Lenin was a holy icon in the old sectarian U.S.S.R., where Jesus was relegated to outlaw status. These mostly smallish paintings and sculptures explore the complex range of symbolism found in a state-run alternate reality where Western values are inverted and reflected back at us in reverse. Another highly symbolic series of flowers with hypodermic syringes instead of pistils and stamens — a visual exploration of addiction's deadly allure — makes this exhibition Goldfinch's most seductively provocative to date.
At the UNO St. Claude Gallery, Chen Gu's Far Away series imagines a world where female desires are paramount, and her highly varied visual meanderings are like snippets from a colorful journey. Nina Schwanse's mostly video subversions of the seductive female pop persona have been so elaborate and thorough that this Trouble Every Day expo can only hint at the remarkable extent of her obsessive oeuvre, perhaps best seen on her website www.ninaschwanse.com. Suffice it to say, she's really something. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Thru May 5
Crimes Against Faith and Other Tales of Compulsion by Jessica Goldfinch
2331 St. Claude Ave.
Far Away and Trouble Every Day by Nina Schwanse and Chen Gu
UNO St. Claude Gallery
2429 St. Claude Ave.