Don’t be fooled: Despite its term-paper title, Linda Larsen’s Instrumentality of a Disparate Conscience taps your soul, not your cerebrum.
The Weaverville-based, internationally exhibited artist displays 50 new works in her current show at Zone one contemporary — including monoprints, oils, terra-cotta sculpture and a mesmerizing window installation.
A self-described deconstructionist whose works echo memories of an Italian Catholic upbringing, Larsen allows that her “first response to most situations is emotional, then mental and lastly … spiritual.” But it’s this trinity’s third spoke that vibrates first in Instrumentality. “Crash Landing” recalls, for this viewer, that daunting superstition which decrees that one who “lands” in a falling dream meets death in the real world. But in this bright oil, the dreamer — although crushed at the neck — seems by her expression to be only mildly inconvenienced, as the rest of her body floats unharmed through sky-blue water.
In the gallery’s front window, Larsen has re-created the living room of her childhood home. Charmingly claustrophobic flowered wallpaper sanctifies one wall; anchoring the space is an old-fashioned cabinet television. Above the TV hangs a portable altar. The top of the set is protected by a doily and a vintage photo of the pope. And issuing from within are black-and-white home movies of Larsen and her sisters, interspersed with scenes from the celebration of the Mass.
The images run 24 hours a day.
Refreshingly, Larsen avoids both kitsch and cynicism in the installation. Noting that most of the household items came from her family, while others were the fruits of helpful friends, she comments: “There is a great deal of affection [there]. There wasn’t always, however; as the work came about, I became more affectionate toward it.”
Fittingly, most of the exhibited monoprints (which start out as images etched with acid into zinc or copper plates) are long, narrow and altarlike, reflecting the exhibit’s title by means of fractured or doubled imagery. “Stealing Beauty” is a penetrating example. Here, two girls in almost-identical green dresses stand side by side, arms folded in a similar fashion. But where one looks abashed, the other’s stance is jubilant.
Another affecting pair is the subject of two blood-colored monoprints, “Love is a Tough Game to Play (1 & 2).” These languid, long-jointed lovers stand face to face, but they are far from static. Emotion brews in their facial expressions and in the slope of their bodies, which connect at the pelvis, and — even more intimately — at the feet.
Even the simple portrait “Considering My Masculinity” has a hint of duality about it. The subject, a weathered bull of a man, sits on a box. His long, strong legs, flung wide and firmly planted, dominate the composition. They seem to stand for two options — neither of them comfortable. His pensive face seconds the dilemma.
In some prints, Larsen divides her canvas lengthwise, leaving a crack of white space down the middle. The unlucky figure in “Facing the Music” is dissected right through the heart; her two halves struggle against a hell-red background. But in the fey “Looking Outside,” the canvas is split horizontally, its top half larger. This tiny work, which features a boy with a yellow Mohawk, is as joyous in its way as the nearby “Soaring Over Purgatory” — a work that inevitably begs to define the whole exhibit.
But such a distinction would probably not sit well with Larsen, who’s as reluctant to anchor her figures in a concrete time and space as she is to explain her own motives. About her decision to split certain canvases, she notes, “I wouldn’t say there was an intention to [do it that way] any more than when you go to pick a certain medium [over another one]. The decision is not always a conscious one [but an] intuitive one; it just seems to fit what I am wanting to express.”
“Self-portrait” is merely a large pencil sketch of Larsen’s hand. The hand’s vulnerable pose renders the image surprisingly childlike — but the opposite is true of “Portrait,” a large monoprint of Larsen’s young son. Further enriching this richly colored work is its subject’s cutting pout — an expression as old as the Mona Lisa’s half-smile, any day.