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ABBA’s “Uncomfortable Art Show” lives up to its title

On Friday, Nov. 16, Gallery ABBA’s newest show, a pop-up centered around the theme of “Uncomfortable Art,” had its premiere. “The Uncomfortable Art Show” features an eclectic body of work in both style and price range (ranging from Bob Avery’s’20 1$ “Danny Devito” to Valley StipeMass’s priceless “Octopossum),” and more than accomplishes its goal of unsettling viewers.

The show is primarily composed of graphic art (graphic in both senses of the word), however there are three notable exceptions. First is “Heartwood” by Eva Haykin’21, a chunky wood block gorgeously carved (sawed? cut?), layered, and painted to resemble an anatomically accurate heart, complete with arteries and ventricles and all those other multisyllabic Latin words. Avery’s “Danny DeVito” resembles a quite different piece of human anatomy; “DeVito” is composed of a wine bottle that’s been covered in globs of thick green paint, a paint whose hue is most reminiscent of the Slime that douses celebrities at the Kid’s Choice Awards. Like the act of “Sliming,” the process is fairly simple but the results are strangely mesmerizing.

Even more mesmerizing is “Slurp,” a video art piece made by Christine Shonnard’19, Natalie Dusek’19 and Lisa Colligan’19. “Slurp” steals the show in terms of eliciting actual discomfort from its viewers, and does so by juxtaposing its visual and auditory elements to startling effect. Closeups on the mouths of the filmmakers show them consuming (rather messily) foods such as greek yogurt and noodles. This consumption process is discomfiting enough but when paired with a bevy of discordant slurps, crunches, and flushes the film tips into truly unsettling territory. It’s a bit like what might happen if you gave a foley artist a cocktail of acid and adderall and told them to get cracking on your Food Network show’s sound design (Incidentally it’s about the same length as one of it’s artistic precursor’s, Jorgan Leth’s film “Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger”).

When you first enter the gallery, you’re quickly greeted by “Donny Jepp,” a delightfully creepy collaborative collage by Suzy Guttman’20 and Dorothea Pantelios’19. “Donny Jepp” features a photo of young Johnny D. framed by a mane of disembodied black hair and some nicely toned plastic doll arms. His face is covered and surrounded by visuals such as a leg-n-leach, a Chips Ahoy! boy, and surprisingly thought provoking questions such as “How does the baby feel? How does the man feel?” If you ask this question of yourself as you walk through the gallery the answer will most likely be some variant of “impressed and distressed.”

Lexi Schnitzer’s’19  three photographs–”Throne of Lies, “False Amber Alert,” and “the love of a parent is forever,” straddle these two feelings quite nicely. A baby doll with an inverted cross tattoo on its forehead (and lot’s of other sweet body art to boot), stares back at the camera in the black and white “love of a parent,” its eyes sunk deep in shadow. Like the subject of a Diane Arbus photo, you’re not quite sure whether to fear or sympathize with this tatted tyke, but you come away from Schnitzer’s series with the impression that the uncomfortable art on display is nothing compared to the spooky shit that her subject has seen.

Across the wall is “Under the Sock,” a photo/collage by Ilyssa Kosova and Jennifer Pantelios’19. As its title suggests, the photo depicts a foot, but it’s toenails have been replaced by cutouts of the faces of the artist’s friends and family, all looking quite thrilled to be there. There’s something strangely cozy about the image, perhaps due to the fact that the subject is wearing pajama pants and hanging out in bed; let’s move on before this turns into a weird foot thing.

Valley StipeMaas’s’19 work shifts the focus from human bodily discomfort to the non-human. Their five works depict strange animal hybrids, such as the aforementioned “Octopussum,” all of which are rendered through incredibly detailed ink-work. They also have a haunting oil/pastel painting on display titled “A Comment on Domesticity.” Ghostly disembodied hands pull and file at a distressed canine’s canines, the blood from its mouth bleeding in with the blues, greens and yellows that shade its face. As a comment on dentistry it speaks for itself.

Owyn Colwell’s’22 “Trust,” the painting used by Gallery ABBA to promote the show, continues the theme of disembodiment and the non-human. The body of a fuzzy orange monster (picture a young Gritty without his hockey jersey on) is severed from its skull-like head, which floats inches in front of it, a startlingly blue butterfly perched upon its nose. The monster seems to be floating in space, literally, its claw’s reaching suggestively towards the void. The monster’s fur is painted beautifully, creating a look that’s half realist, half comic book. The work feels profound and absurd and lonely.

The same can be said of fellow freshman Sophia Nowak’s’22 best piece, “Snippity Snip,” which shows a floating astronaut, their limbs and torso bisected by a series of tiny scissors. The piece evokes both alienation and the Victorian paper doll cutouts that let you swap hats and clothes around on your subject (in the case of “Snippity-Snip,” the scissor work on the subject seems a tad aggressive).

The show’s only abstract work comes in the form of three gorgeous prints by Weining Wang (all untitled).  To call the prints uncomfortable is a bit of a stretch–they’re just too damn beautiful. There is a dark edge to them, however; thick rorschach blobs of black ink mingle with thin tree-bark like lines in one work, creating a haunting forest atmosphere (is haunting forest an atmosphere? Who knows, let’s move on).

Speaking of forests, Miette Muller’s’19 painting, “Mothers and Daughters,” features three nude human-rabbit hybrids. This sounds a bit funny without pictorial context, but the work is actually deeply moving–a matrilineal chain is lined up for the viewer, the characters and relationships of each mother/daughter hinted at  by the unique ways they cover their furless bodies, or look (or not) at each other.

Ava Rockafield’s’20 painting, “Let’s Move in Together,” shows more subtle connections between its threes subjects. A spider descends from above upon a platypus, while said platypus reaches towards a vine. This vine is spiraling out from a tiny human footed bathtub, whose occupant has a discordantly large head with a tree growing out of it. All three roommates, if we can call them that, are searching for sort of nourishment, but that nourishment may have uncomfortable costs for their house-partners.

Uncomfortable costs is thematic subject of “Morning Coffee,” Gretel O’Donnell’s’19 exquisitely strange and hilarious depiction of coffee shits. A woman (who resembles the artist herself) pours coffee down her throat, and we follows its path through her body and towards the literal toilet bowl lodged inside her. Where the coffee starts and where the shit begins is anyone’s guess, as O’Donnell cleverly keeps their hues the same. More than a visual gag, “Morning Coffee” is a fantastic piece of graphic art–clean, simple, eye catching, and just as stimulating as its namesake.

Uncomfortable Art is a pop-up show so it won’t be around for long. Do yourself a favor and check it out while you still can.

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