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“The Flaming Sword of Truth” offered the works of (newly minted SECA recipient) Sarah Cain, Jaime Cortez, Leo Estevez, Jonn Herschend, Kenneth Lo, Peter Nelson, and Will Rogan. The grandiose exhibition title drew from the notion that “each of the artists offers their interpretations of truth as it is shaped and reshaped over time” and attempted to thematically corral their group dynamic. Despite that, the exhibition functioned as it should have and presented a range of dense and wildly different creative practices.

In one sense, poetic simplicity and understated humor did run a loose thematic thread through the many of the works. Jonn Herschend’s text-based video, executed within the limitations of rigidly functional PowerPoint, offered a disjointed sequence of events that seemingly resulted in a profound misunderstanding. The stark text projected on to the pristine screen offered the visual equivalent of getting back to basics, and was at once immensely appealing and amusing. (Fair disclosure: I have known Jonn for years and did even sell his work once upon a time. Though, for all the evolution presented in his current practice, if I hadn’t known better I might have thought that I was looking at the work of someone else entirely.)

A video by Kenneth Lo is constructed with old-fashioned cut paper figures hand animated by the artist in full view of the camera. The voice-over, narrated by Lo, details a close pick-up basketball game with superstar Kobe Bryant. The artist’s subverted concerns with racism and prejudice provide resonating undercurrents that linger well beyond the initial wonder at the deceptively simple execution of his imagery and his humor. Will Rogan’s video Getting Through (Spectral Vortex)leads us through the experience of watching a child playing with her own reflections in a set of vertically hinged full length mirrors—the position of the monitor and scale of the image all recreating the experience as though the viewer were holding the camera.

UC Berkeley, with its formidable associations to practical sciences, does not easily lend itself to the cliché notions of an art school. A particular brand of staid scholarly thinking is implicit with any production from its ivied halls—this year’s MFA exhibition opined that intellectual rigor can be served with a smile. The exhibition closed on May 21—shame if you missed it, but I’ll wager now that there will be many other options to see these artists again.

— Christian L. Frock

IMAGE CREDIT:  Untitled (2006) (video still), Kenneth Lo. Courtesy of the artist.

- Meredith Tromble [Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006]

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