It?s not science fiction anymore

Has the downtown gallery scene gotten too tame for you? Works with no deep meaning — too decorative, too slick, too pretty, and too safe?

Take heart: Keith Hewett’s current exhibit at Push will scare the bejesus out of you.

Hewett displays some paintings in his Reliquaries of the Frankenstein Complex — but this is one artist who obviously spends little time shopping at True Blue for supplies. The work is derived from the idea of so-called advances in genetic engineering. A trip to the supermarket, where “vine-ripened” tomatoes taste like cardboard but boast a shelf life of eight weeks, should tell us all we need to know about these dubious processes. But Hewett brings the topic’s potential home to us — in gut-wrenching, visual language — via a series of lithographs, paintings and sculptures.

His paintings are interesting for their content, but also because of the varying styles often found within one piece. The figures in “Chasm” are rendered in an almost expressionistic manner, while the eponymous gulf separating them is executed in high-Renaissance style. Color-wise, the work is somber, dark and rich. Mysterious creatures, shaped somewhat like chairs, have four legs, strangely jointed and ending in round hooves. Round, exposed eyeballs protrude from their tops. This work, like the rest, bequeaths a feeling of unease.

“Anthropomorphasaurus” implies that this whole genetic fooling around may already be out of control. An armless, long-legged creature squats over an endless sea of blue robins’ eggs: But the result of the hatching will decidedly not be robins! Inserts in the painting depict bulldozers and other dirt-moving equipment.

Heavy-equipment inserts are also present in “No One Ever Suspects the Butterfly.” Machined parts join the body sections of a six-legged, bird-beaked creature sporting a human eye. The most frightening of the paintings, though, hangs in the back of the gallery, almost as an afterthought: No card gives its title. In it a large, half-organic, half-mechanical skull-like head sits in front of rows of lead plumbing pipes displaying sections of human torsos and human hands — an assembly line for body parts.

The sculptures in the main gallery are similarly gruesome. “Elsie” stands on a bronze tripod of cow hooves attached to rusty legs, topped by a bleached bovine pelvis. A semi-circular arrangement of metal bands is shot through with rusted hypodermic needles, all pointed toward a bronze human skull suspended underneath big vertebrae, and another metal cage holding the cow’s skull. This theme — the possibilities and temptations of biotechnology — is repeated in Hewett’s lithographs that show a cow-headed animal with human hands.

The theme marches on in “Apparatus I,” wherein a milky liquid flows from a copper bowl, through copper tubing, trickling slowly over a large, white bone encased in a copper cage suspended from a wall bracket. The whole arrangement sits on a metal-framed wooden box, the cow imagery from the lithographs repeated on its sides. “Apparatus III” is a rectangular research table clinging to a triangular steel base by means of a bent steel rod. The rod rises above the table and splits into a trinity of segments, each holding a caged animal skull. Meanwhile, a caged human skull, made of cement, dangles from the apex of the table, surrounded by the ever-present hypodermic needles. A small stack of books lies atop the table, the most visible one being an old tattered copy of the physics text How Things Work.

Reliquaries is not pleasant to look at or to think about, and it addresses yet another problem that engenders feelings of helplessness: science run amok, in the hands of those over whom there is no control. Our only hope is that Camille Paglia is right when she writes, “Nature always wins.”

[Connie Bostic is a local painter whose work will be seen in October in the inaugural exhibit at the new Fine Arts Museum at Western Carolina University.]

Keith Hewett’s Reliquaries of the Frankenstein Complex shows at Push Skateshop and Art Gallery (25 Patton Ave.) through Friday, Sept. 30. 225-5509.

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