Review

Clayton Campbell's beasts of the wild and the cellular come to life at Coagula Curatorial

Two virtual worlds, one analog and the other digital, collide in “Wild Kingdom,” a group of 12 photographic prints from a larger recent suite by Clayton Campbell. Each is mounted on a 17-by-30-inch aluminum panel, as if it were a public notice or sign.

In a way, it is. The signal being sent at Coagula Curatorial is sardonic – an elaborate engagement with the self-absorbed condition of worldly disengagement.

Campbell has digitally inserted surreptitious street photographs of men and women, mostly middle-aged and younger, into wild-life dioramas at natural history museums. The people are engrossed with smartphones or tablets, wandering the Internet or social media, while scarcely paying attention to the taxidermy animals around them. 

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The dioramas’ analog virtual reality is already one step removed from living nature. Stuffed gazelles, buzzards, gorillas, sheep and more reside within habitats that are painted and sculpted stage sets.

Campbell underscores the digital intrusion by letting the seams show in places where his photographed people were inserted. The diorama, however charming, doesn’t stand a chance against a high-tech invasion.

In “Prepping to Kill,” a man with an unruly mane of hair stands next to a stuffed and similarly coifed lion. Staring into his phone, he may be texting the lovely, lanky woman out in the field, who stares into her own device.

Or perhaps they’re as oblivious to one another as they are to the predators around them – or to the theatricality of the animals’ representation. Who is tracking whom? And what’s the difference between the insentient animals, wild or human?

Sometimes Campbell’s implied narratives can get jokey, as when an unmindful couple pushes a conspicuously empty baby stroller beneath a vulture soaring overhead. (Two small children ride a camel in the distance, waving American flags.) YouTube features numerous videos of avian abductions, real or fictional, but a Ganymede twist might deepen the black humor.

More pointed is an elephant safari, where a young woman attempts a selfie with just one of her several cameras. A shopping bag from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the tourist-driven “elephant” of great American art institutions, conspicuously dangles from her arm. She doesn’t register, never mind record, the bloody trampled bodies piled over to one side.

A similar selfie ritual plays out in another panel, as roughly 20 buzzards swarm and feast in the background. Look closely – more closely than the people are – and you’ll pick out a hapless zebra’s leg sticking out amid all the feathers. Indifferent to mortality, hakuna matata it’s not.

Coagula Curatorial, 974 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (424) 226-2485, through Aug. 23. Closed Mon.-Tue. www.coagulacuratorial.com

Twitter @KnightLAT 

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