Social Insecurity

It's the subtle intrusions that agitate Lara Taubman, the many seemingly small but unrelenting violations the MonOrchid Gallery curator tries to ignore from day to day.

Strangers rifling through her luggage at the airport. Video cameras documenting her every move in public spaces. Armed security guards suspiciously observing her shopping habits. Taubman feels she's persistently under attack from Big Brother because of the escalating security measures catalyzed by September 11.

Perturbed at having to live with it all, Taubman began a dialogue with other artists, both international and local. Her feelings resonated far and wide, resulting in the exhibition "A WarLike People: Victims or Perpetrators?" which examines the impact new laws and security measures have on our daily lives. The show opens on Thursday, February 3, at MonOrchid.

"A WarLike People" features an impressive group of 26 wide-ranging contributors, including Philadelphia artist Laura Watt, who says she's participating because of the ambitious scale of the project and the geographic chemistry involved.

"It's an intriguing pairing of the burgeoning Phoenix art scene," Watt explains, "with New York and L.A. artists, who are often mildly antagonistic."

Taubman describes the crux of the exhibition: "Who are we right now as a people in this nation, victims or perpetrators?" She observes that "many Americans associate themselves with victims. That infers there's a lack of people wanting to take responsibility."

Local artist Jon Haddock says his contribution to the show hinges on responsibility. Haddock's papier-mâché work -- Wounds of an Iraqi Child Transferred to the American President -- compares the respective importance of two lives by redirecting the head wounds suffered by an Iraqi girl to President Bush. "My series of works inquire how we as Americans are able to live with ourselves by kind of trivializing the deaths of so many Iraqi civilians who are killed every day," Haddock says. "We go along and don't feel the full weight, because if we did, we wouldn't be able to go ahead with daily life."

Meanwhile, interpersonal relationships are poignantly illustrated by L.A. artist Kristin Calabrese, whose art seeks to make horrible things beautiful. Her painting You Can Hide in My Closet shows a female figure wrapped in bandages on a closet floor. "She symbolizes a mentor in art school who was forced to resign because of budgetary problems that occurred under her watch," Calabrese says. "She ended up hanging herself in her closet. I remember thinking she could have hid in my closet. I would have taken care of her until she felt better."

Taubman's only rule for the show's contributors was to submit art free of graphic violence, which suits New York artist Odili Donald Odita. His painting Descent is based on African landscape textiles.

"Like the show, [it's] all about subtlety. It's not something you get at first glance," Odita says. "But if you give it the time it deserves, it's much more involved than a political stump speech."

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Douglas Towne