Who could have imagined that "Chaos Theory," a three-day, ragtag invitational art exhibition uncurated by artist Randy Slack of Legend City Studios, would hit its teenage prime and actually force local artists to hone their skills for public review?
Fourteen years ago, "Chaos Theory" borrowed its name, quite aptly, from the principle formulated by American mathematician Edward Lorenz that small differences in beginning conditions of a dynamical system will end up creating such different outcomes that long-term predictions about the system are basically impossible. For us math-phobic laymen, that means even a minor change in something's beginning can affect its ultimate outcome.
"Chaos Theory" ends up being the perfect moniker for this show, which started as a funky, ragingly uneven DIY show back in the day and has morphed into a highly anticipated annual event that will actually continue this year past its original one-weekend-only boundaries.
Not that "Chaos Theory 14" is the perfect exhibition, by any means, though participating artists seem to be taking their submissions more seriously than ever before. Unfortunately, the Legend City exhibition this year is still plagued with enough predictability and mediocrity, not to mention passing topicality, to keep it from reaching any aesthetic apex.
The most disappointing facet of this year's show is the photography on display, which has none of the punch of last year's offerings. Brandon Sullivan's unremarkable Fuzzy with a Bite, a 3-foot-by-4-foot black-and-white print of jumping cholla backlit in a desert setting, would be more appropriate to some commercial gallery on Scottsdale's Main Street catering to Midwestern tourists. [Un]intended Targets by William Legoullon, a grid of rusty, disintegrating containers that used to contain flammable material, fails to be anything more than what it portrays. Jehu gives us yet another dollop of the Ten Dollar Project with Kyle Russ, a large black-and-white photograph of a disheveled man with a beard and matted hair, evoking none of the pathos of his anguished portrait of an African man from last year's show. David Michael Cook's color print of a weathered border patrol camera is less than inspiring, as is Brent Bond's Rising Son, a multi-paneled archival inkjet homage to his young son.
Maybe I've just seen too many SoCal-infused photographic images of lone surfers lugging short boards on isolated beaches and freeway construction scenarios -- not to mention experiencing the banal reality of both -- to be bowled over or even mildly engaged by Jon Balinkie's Beach Toys (yes, I saw the abandoned toddy on the beach, not that it makes any difference to this stereotypical shot) or Jesse Rieser's A Portrait of Los Angeles: Carmageddon, a stock shot of Interstate 405 under construction between Los Angeles, Mulholland Drive, and the San Fernando Valley.
God only knows what Wayne Rainey was thinking showing a staged shot of Little Red Riding Hood and an alleged wolf with garbage cans peeking through its forested backdrop. The piece was made even worse by a long, didactic explanation of the historical background of the fairy tale and its psycho-sexual significance. And Steve Yazzie dealt himself a cruel blow by displaying a snoozy digital still of a mountain taken from his multi-channel video installation, The Mountain, now showing at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe. Check out Yazzie's installation documentation, then dare to disagree with me.
This year's painting and multimedia entries fared much better, showing off solid technical skills of drawing, painting and construction, all but lost in the breath-sucking miasma of that Neo-Conceptual and performative social studies craze that plagued us for way too long. For sheer mastery of form, Rachel Bess' Summer Snowstorm, a portrait of a bare-chested black man peering through a small magnifying glass at snowflake drawings hung from barely visible thread, is of note, as is Larry Madrigal's Lee Green, a frontal image of what first appears to be a black, haloed Buddha. I had to dig to discover that the person depicted is Lee Green, a performer in Phoenix's Christian rap scene and whose music videos are strikingly gritty, in a good way.
For me, this year's overall "Chaos Theory" winner is Moreno by Amelec Diaz, with Melissa Martinez's playful Shimmy, Shimmy, Shake, an installation of airborne fabric forms suggesting floating jellyfish, in second place. Diaz's powerful nine-panel painting on bumpy metal plate -- whose title refers to non-pejorative Mexican Spanish for someone dark-skinned -- weaves together images of pre-Columbian gold death masks (which happen to be from ancient Peruvian, not Mexican, cultures) with goofy, stereotypical Speedy Gonzalez cartoons and disfiguring graffiti.
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A final note to artists who chose to deal with the politically and socially topical: I say unto you, tread carefully or in 50 years no one will know who or what your work was originally about. To have extended shelf life, pop cultural references need to relate to objects or events that that are truly iconic, like Disneyland and man's first walk on the moon, both of which are historically crystallized and star in James Angel's painted construction, Time Dilation. The Molten Brothers better pray that the bizarre, in-person convo between Kim Jong-un, the current Ultimate Grand Supreme leader of North Korea, and in-the-ozone b-baller Dennis Rodman (most recently appearing at a glitzy charity gala thrown by Leah Black on The Real Housewives of Miami), becomes burned into the brains of posterity. Otherwise, their joint multimedia collaboration, The International Clown Classic, labeled with "Felix" and "Oscar" of Odd Couple fame, will be received in the future with head scratches.
"Chaos Theory 14" will be open to the public on Third Friday (October 18) at Legend City Studios, 521 W. Van Buren, Phoenix, during the Grand Avenue Festival on Saturday, October 19, and during the Downtown Chamber Music Series on Saturday, November 16.