Everything Is Illuminated

August 8th, 2010

What if you go see artwork by someone you know and don’t like it? Wow, awkward moment. Fortunately that was not the case with the first solo show at Johansson Projects by Erik Parra, who I know from writing at comPAct. Phew. Parra’s “Between Currencies” was even one of the Bay Guardian’s weekly picks.

Parra has a few graphite, ink, and watercolor or marker drawings, but the pieces that attracted the most attention are deceptively simple collages combining found images and confetti-like bits of colored paper. My initial reaction was a smile, and I saw the same on every face in the room. That’s quite an achievement, because collage rarely surpasses the feeling of being derivative, or meaningfully joining the parts to reach a sense of gestalt. Through his small modifications the hidden is revealed, the drab is made fabulous and the everyday, extraordinary.

Untitled, collage on paper (2009)

In the above untitled work unsmiling agents–guided by instructions piped through their ear buds–are armed not only with weapons but conspicuously groovy glasses that allow them to see all around them that which is invisible to us. It’s a familiar motif: Luna Lovegood’s  Spectrespecs which reveal Wrackspurt in the film version of Harry Potter and the HBP.  And in John Carpenter’s “They Live” (which I never actually saw but has a really creepy poster), pro wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper finds glasses that reveal aliens controlling us through subliminal messages.

"MRE Show," collage on paper (2010)

The children in “MRE Show” don’t need magic glasses. They have not yet learned to filter out the mundane noise of everyday life. To them everything is aglow with intensity. Even the preparation of the famously unpalatable Meal, Ready-to-Eat is viewed with drop-jawed fascination, no less than if the cook was juggling fire. Maybe that’s why we all smiled: We were remembering when life was vibrant and magical.

"Cactus Garden," collage on paper (2009?)

Perhaps it’s all one big acid trip, where the walls ooze color and plants commune with you, sentient. But as Nietzsche said, “Of course it is happening inside your head… but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” No, wait. That’s Harry Potter again.

“Between Currencies” runs through September 11 at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Ave. Oakland, CA.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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