Nexus, Sexus, Plexus: a series of systems, at Dashboard Co-op’s three newly inaugurated storefront spaces through August 1, is titled after and inspired by Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion trilogy of novels. They may or may not parallel Miller’s plot lines as advertised (I’ve never read the books), but they are as lyrically erotic and visionary as anything Miller ever produced.
Their delicate, complex and intelligent visual metaphors stand in contrast to the well-trafficked but sometimes gritty and painfully literal-minded intersection of Spring Street and North Avenue on which they’re situated.
Nexus is a show with a double, if not triple, meaning, for the three artists in it were selected based on the exhibition archives of the original Nexus art center (now known as the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center). Susan Loftin’s rhapsody in blue tape kicks off the experience. Loftin’s floor- and wall-encompassing parallel stripes in different shades of blue form a set of visual rhythms that alter our experience of as neutral a box of a storefront as can be imagined.
The phantasmagoria of perception is succeeded by John Salvest’s double bed with embedded toy train underneath the sheets, a Freudian jeu d’esprit that becomes all the more amusing once one realizes that the installation was originally created in response to Thomas Hart Benton’s painting of a railroad engineer dreaming about a fast-traveling train.
That fact, available in the brochure, is not necessary to the enjoyment of the concealed train occupying one side of the bed, with a soundtrack of rhythmic pulses punctuated by occasionally double-entendre engineer’s exclamations.
William Downs’ flabbergastingly immense floor-to-ceiling wall installation of small drawings completes the Nexus experience. Downs’ accumulated sketches of everything from figures in almost every conceivable posture to a vulture hovering somewhere over Virginia are executed on pieces of paper that range from the pages of a book of exercises in elementary Chinese to invoices of a menswear company from the year 1971. This installation is a compendium of Downs’ daily drawings, posted on the wall in the same order or disorder they were in when he removed them from their boxes; no attempt was made to create a composition, which makes it all the more remarkable that large segments of the walls seem exquisitely composed.
The combination of Freudian-symbolic and bluntly literal sexual imagery in Nexus ought to prepare the viewer for the encounter with Sexus, an installation by the Plastic Aztecs collaborative in a nearby storefront, but the space still comes as a delectably perverse shock. Beginning with polymorphous soft-sculptures flanking a tunnel of softly embracing frilly fabric, the installation is a set of riffs on the female anatomy that makes Freudian readings superfluous. After a few minutes amid the narrow apertures and assorted shades of pink, even the unlit stairway leading downstairs (not actually part of the installation) begins to look suggestive.
Plexus, around the corner, comes as a different sort of pleasurable shock. Jason Peters works with spatial disorientation, suspending a network of metal chairs from the ceiling with a web of orange cords, then lighting the whole ensemble with ultraviolet. A large rectangle of mirrors on the floor completes the experience of a system of connections divorced from ordinary space and time, as the mirrors turn the complex of chairs, cords and ceiling grid into a view of dizzyingly indefinite depths.
This North Avenue space was home to the stunning Chris Chambers architectural sculpture Powder Room II, in a two-week prequel to the current show. In this even more ambitious version of the earthquake-shattered bathroom he debuted at Dashboard’s Cosms, the toilet sat on the floor surrounded by broken tiles, while the tastefully appointed remainder of the bathroom remained firmly fixed to the walls of the space one story above. This entire wood-frame structure was constructed on site, one reason why the exhibition of the finished piece was as brief as it was. Fortunately, the whole construction process is documented in a video online.
Although the art in Nexus, Sexus, Plexus functions perfectly well without explication, it would be unfair not to address the deeper set of connections incorporated in this trio of exhibitions. The curators, and the artists they selected, thought a great deal about the philosophical implications of what they were doing — very much in the way that Henry Miller thought about the meaning of the rabelaisian adventures he recounts in the three books of The Rosy Crucifixion.
If Chambers’ site-specific piece stands as a one-off accomplishment with its own philosophical-scatological undertones, the Nexus, Sexus, Plexus triad represents a brilliant metaphor for Dashboard’s intentions in presenting exhibitions. There is a reason they didn’t copy Miller’s original sequence of titles (Sexus was the first novel, followed by Plexus and Nexus) apart from avoiding unnecessary sensationalism; “nexus” is the primary concept here, in its dictionary definitions of “a series of connections linking two or more things” or “the central or most important point or place”; “plexus” is the terminus in its twofold definition of “a network of nerves or blood vessels in the body” and the more general “an intricate network or weblike formation.” “Sexus,” as the intermediate term, presents the intricate network by which the body achieves definition. Plastic Aztecs’ installation immerses the visitor in visual analogies to bodily processes that include a network of blue and red tubing that suggests blood vessels, and the intrauterine atmosphere is a deliberate response to Miller’s wish “to know what’s inside me . . . to open up the earth . . . underneath the mess everything is marvelous, I’m sure of it.”
At this traffic-clogged crossroads characterized by memorably historic sites of fast food on one block and liturgical worship on the next, Dashboard has presented its own convincing homage to this conviction that underneath the mess, everything is marvelous.
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