Life Is Sweat

The sign at the entrance to the Mesa Arts Center pretty much sums it up: "Caution! Door can get very hot!" Believe it. At 5 p.m. on a summer day, you don't just leave fingerprints on the metal handle of the west-facing door -- you leave the first layer of skin.

Inside the wide hallways of the center that houses display, performance, classroom and meeting space for a number of local arts organizations, the heat is still evident. The air is warm, and it isn't moving. A lone fan just outside the information office pushes a few sorry molecules about, but the promise of cool that it whispers in its oscillation dissipates into so much hot air. Maybe they're trying to save money on their electric bill. Maybe they're observing a day of solidarity with their power-challenged California comrades in arts. Or maybe it's all a setup for the current exhibit in the Mesa Contemporary Arts space.

Whatever the reason for the sweat-inducing environment, it's certainly an appropriate milieu in which to experience "The Asphalt's Still Squishy at Midnight," a show by the members of Eye Lounge, a new Phoenix-based art collective. There's plenty to catch not only your eye, but your ear and a couple of other senses, in this display of heat-inspired art.

The eye and the ear are both engaged by Aurora Hughes Villa's Asphalt After a Rainstorm, a ceramic and sound installation that also induces a sense of nostalgia. Follow the line of 30 cookie-size ceramic disks imprinted with images of old-fashioned electric fans down the wall to the CD player and headphones. Put on the headphones and listen to the background noise of summer -- someone stirring a cool drink, the ice cubes and spoon clinking reassuringly against the glass; a girl singing into a fan, the notes and words of her songs fluttering in the ragged breeze -- as the artist paints word pictures in a voice-over that ticks off a litany of summer pleasures: "the smell of asphalt after a rainstorm . . . hide-and-go-seek at night . . . swim lessons . . . [making] pink milk with Froot Loops . . . Slip 'n' Slides . . ."

A few steps and a harsher world away, Traffic, a mixed-media piece by Carolyn Lavender, captures the primordial summer goo of Phoenix in all its squishy asphalt glory. Two stark white footprints -- of bare feet, no less -- are preserved in a black, tarlike substance. It's our version of an insect trapped in amber.

The show offers 15 other musings on Phoenix in the summertime, all worth a look, but for sheer fun it's hard to beat Greg Esser's narrow panel that's studded with wooden kitchen matches held in place by tiny eye screws. The bright-hot red heads of the matches stand out -- both literally and figuratively -- from the white background of the panel, while three black silhouettes cut from sandpaper gracefully dive and joyfully leap down the panel. The title of the work? Like Rats From a Sinking Ship, These Are the People Leaving Phoenix in the Summer.

Would that we could all be like those rats.

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Laura Pimentel
Contact: Laura Pimentel