Visual Arts

Body Language

No argument that our collective body-consciousness has, indeed, reached a vulgar place. You can't channel-surf these days without hitting Dr. 90210 or a countdown of the 100 hottest Hollywood bodies — shows that surely will make you panic at the sight of your own nakedness.

But our obsession with bodies is nothing new. Think of all the fantastic flesh that can be visually consumed at the Louvre. With that kind of social history, it's no wonder that the modern world indulges our vanity by way of scalpels and anesthesia. Mesa Contemporary Arts' "Physical Presence" show focuses on the body. But, for the most part, the images won't fuel your insecurities. Instead, this collection of works focuses on how human bodies can express emotional pain, reveal horrendous sides of the human condition, or embody collective perversions.

Naturally, there are a lot of naked chicks on the walls, but James Allen's Nuns and Guns is one of the few pieces that don't focus solely on the ladies. A group of life-size figures bombard the viewer with the agony of war. Uniformed men are in various stages of action — some springing to kill while others crumple in injury. A few are overtaken with death and rage and have no face at all — just a raging skull. Interspersed are women in black and white habits with overflowing expressions of mercy as they tend to the sick and attempt to offer religious comfort in the frenzied fervor of war. The piece is straightforward, and Allen boldly captures the mayhem of his loud and vicious subject matter.

Back to the nudes. People tend to feel comfy with black and white photos of bodies — they're pretty and have their place. That's why they shouldn't be in this show; they're too predictable. Dana Davis' black and white photos of torsos wrenched in dramatic gestures (and really good lighting) are nice, but boring. And Brett Ryabik's photo of a seated naked woman, hugging her knee, is a blatant rip-off of Edward Weston, the early-20th-century photographer whose famous nudes originated the stunning pose.

Ronnie Kramer totally kicked ass with "Pillow Girl." The video installation shows more than 200 covers from vintage paperbacks and men's magazines — all drawings in a pin-up girl style. The images of scantily clad ladies running through jungles or soft-faced beauties lounging in bed gyrate and swirl as each illustration morphs into the next (think Michael Jackson's "Black or White" video). The mesmerizing vision is set to an ethereal, instrumental soundtrack. The women are depicted as "save me" damsels in distress, "let's fight" sexy superheroes, "come hither" bedroom vixens and "black widow" predators. The old-timey depiction of women is racy, objectifying, and so compelling, I watched the video loop three times over.

Even though we live in a world where figures are automatically looked upon as candidates for pectoral implants or labia reductions, Mesa's show is a reminder of how the body is an important vehicle to express ideas of humanity.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi