"Omens," Melanie Nakaue's affecting exhibition at the Luckman Gallery, hinges on mutability and hybridity, things turning into other things or revealing extended, multiplicitous selves.
The L.A.-based Nakaue works in sculpture and animation, and those two media encapsulate her core concerns for materiality and being, the physical stuff of life and the currents running through it, not least the anima itself, mind or soul, engine of the subconscious.
Three large screens dominate the main gallery, each playing a short, looping video, an unnarrated, mostly claymation vignette. Each contains striking, memorable images: the close-up of a grotesque, disembodied mouth whose tongue runs along wobbly, wide-spaced teeth, dislodging them; the searing gaze of a green-eyed, terracotta-colored bobcat, serenely licking its lips; the matted, fibrous skin of a goggle-eyed creature with numerous darting, worm-like tongues. Yes, tongues factor everywhere, creeping conduits between inner and outer realms.
Nakaue's sculptures run from a grid of wall-mounted bronze teats to a group of intimate, poignant dark bronze sketches of clunky molars, a mottled grasping hand, a plant whose stem morphs into looping arms. The work of Klara Kristalova comes to mind, as does that of Nathalie Djurberg.
"Bitches," another video in its own gallery, contains a passage that epitomizes Nakaue's powerful command of visually, viscerally complex notions. Within a strange, ritualized circle of figures, all facing out, one delivers milky droplets from her six breasts down into the open mouth of an upturned head newly emerged from between its thick, vaginal lips. Nurture as self-consumption, perhaps, or the other way around. Figures and forces are vividly fluid.
Luckman Gallery, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Dr., (323) 343-6600, through May 23. Closed Fridays and Sundays. www.luckmanarts.org