From its meandering title to its rapacious command of space, Graciela Ovejero's exhibition at the Centro Cultural de la Raza drums on the senses with a bold, nervous energy. The lush, pulsing strokes of her paintings and the surprising forms of her installations engage mind and body alike, shifting each into a state of mild disorientation, laced with disdain.
Ovejero's works surround, threaten, confront and confuse. They shout, but their voices dissolve into a chorus of white noise--loud but indistinct.
The artist, born and educated in Argentina, lives in San Diego, where she has participated in several group shows. "Waste Contesting the Rewards of Crusading for a Flat Earth" (through March 11) is being billed as her first one-person show in a professional gallery in this country. It is dense with ambition and fervor but far too short on focus and resolve.
"The works explore different aspects of contemporary and universal human conflicts," Ovejero writes in a wall statement, "basically denouncing a faded sense of compassion under the exaltation of ideals of grandeur and the constantly refined mechanisms of power surveillance at social and individual levels."
Images and situations related to the ideas expressed here emerge in Ovejero's work, but only vaguely. In her paintings, all untitled, figures display this "faded sense of compassion" through their alienating distance from one another, and their sealed, impenetrable eyes. Despite the visual richness of the paintings, with their braids of mellow and vibrant color, they tell of psychological distress.
Postures are exaggerated, contorted, and often figures are twisted like rope. Many lack legs or arms. A faceless bureaucrat, a news maker prodded by microphones, a religious leader, an eerily hooded laborer and many anonymous figures, arms wrapped around themselves in self-protection, haunt the canvases, rooted neither to the earth nor each other. Their gaping mouths and smeared features allude to horrors that are never defined. Angst, canvas after canvas, begins to feel like affectation.
Ovejero's installations recycle objects and textures from the everyday world. A rough crust of mud coats a group of chairs, making their way, caterpillar-like, down a wall and across the floor. A refrigerator filled with chunks of asphalt casts a long, yellow, human-like shadow. In "Pieta," two wood-framed figures hover over an Astroturf platform littered with miniature military equipment. And, in the most imposing installation, an adult's torture is paired with a child's game. An immense, foam-rubber figure tied to a stake looms forward over a hopscotch game, whose circles and squares are framed by shoes painted white. A gray foam sack, marked "Western-Made," covers the figure's head.
Though polemical in spirit, the works' passion seems undirected. Interpretations can be overlaid, but rarely do they fit snugly or even convincingly.
One untitled installation, for instance, can be read as a dialogue between chaos and compartmentalization. Eight identical, sculpted briefcases form a low hedge before a broad canvas. Above, a huge constructed heart hangs inches above a fishing net. The canvas itself is divided into three parts. In the center, a box opens to reveal a light bulb in one of its four partitioned sections. Surrounding the box are further compartments, formed of stiffened and painted rags, that contain various quantities of bread rolls.
To either side of this sprawling center section are painted images of swirling maelstroms. A silhouetted figure makes its vertiginous fall into the eye of each storm, while flames, sword-bearing stick figures and horrific variants on the Mona Lisa swim in the surrounding space.
The individual, sucked into the abyss, is framed by pressures: the regulated anonymity suggested by the briefcases; the imposing genius of those who came before, such as Leonardo; the controlled allocation of resources, hinted at by the unevenly distributed bread, and finally, the weight of emotion and instinct that, in the shape of the heart, hovers over all our actions.
Such interpretations slide off Ovejero's work just as easily as they slide on, for there are too many loose ends for any single concept to stick. Although this can often be a positive attribute, here it is a symptom of an artist's abundant energy spread too thin.