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Sacred Meets Profane Via ‘Sacrifice’

Two French sociologists of the 19th Century examined the ritual practice of sacrifice and found that, across thousands of years and dozens of participating cultures, the procedure had a certain unity. Whether the sacrificial victim was human or animal, whether the purpose of the rite was to give thanks, make a request or make amends, the procedure always involved an attempt to establish communication between the sacred and profane worlds through the mediation of a victim--something or someone that is destroyed in the course of the ceremony.

Albert Chong, a Jamaican-born artist who teaches at MiraCosta College, has examined the practice and purpose of sacrifice in an installation on display through Oct. 19 at MiraCosta’s new Kruglak Gallery at One Barnard Drive in Oceanside.

“A Substitute Sacrifice” floods the gallery space with intangible ideas, concepts and beliefs while also thrusting the viewer into a realm of concrete sensation. The spiritual and sensual come together here with quiet, but tremendous, force.

Chong covered most of the gallery floor with a thick bed of brown and white chicken feathers. A tall wooden cross stands at each end of the room, and in the center of the feathered floor lies a large photographic montage combining the images of a crucified Christ, a formally posed black woman of an earlier era, and two young black children. Hollow egg shells nestle into the rocks that frame the photograph.

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To approach the montage and to

examine the crosses, one must walk through the cloud-like carpet of feathers. This soft cushion beneath the feet, the footsteps’ hushed impact and the slow, weightless floating of the feathers in one’s path shift the visitor’s body and mind to another plane, into that realm of communication where the sacred meets the profane.

One of the two 10-foot-high crosses is charred; the other is coated with feathers. Both contain small niches with candles, a fur-lined book, an animal skull and small sculpted human heads with twisted features and shells for eyes. A row of thorns frames one of these heads, recalling the crown of thorns said to have been worn by the crucified Christ. Numerous such echoes and overlaps between Christian symbolism and African-derived Caribbean forms of worship can be found in Chong’s installation. These are basic to Santeria, a syncretic practice devised by African slaves in the Caribbean to enable them to worship their traditional deities within the parameters of Spanish-Christian law.

Chong’s choice of objects and images invests the gallery space with powerful evocations of death and martyrdom, but also of spiritual endurance and ritual purification. He hints at the notion of persecution through the image of the burned cross, but leaves the identities of the sacrificial victims vague. The meaning of Chong’s title thus remains oblique--who or what is being substituted for whom?--but the richness of the environment he creates is as real and immediate as can be.

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Wilhelm Roseneder is a young Austrian artist who is having his first American show at downtown’s Options Gallery (744 G St., through Oct. 14). Though his debut seems to promise a fresh, foreign perspective, Roseneder shares a by-now-international addiction to word/image combinations, a field currently more desiccated by overuse than fertile.

Nearly all of Roseneder’s paintings and drawings bear single word titles written on the surface amid various images, tones and textures. Like many of his American counterparts--from Julian Schnabel to Lawrence Gipe and Neil Jenney--Roseneder asserts relationships between words and images that range from the collaborative to the conflicting, but never approach illustration. The ambiguity that results can be engaging, but more often it is flat and pretentious.

Roseneder chooses words with international currency and, often, potent associations. In his drawings, these words float on a sooty, smoky surface drawn with a glasochrome pencil on thin, nearly transparent paraffin paper. “Slogan” features a ship emerging from a sky smudged with swirls. In “Nation,” a dark, drum-shaped object is propped up on a dank, streaked gray field. “Fax,” “Moment,” “Triumph” and the others rely on a similar confrontation between a familiar term and an unfamiliar context.

Roseneder uses the same general format for his paintings as well, but the surfaces tend to be more complex. Corrugated cardboard, aluminum and photographic images help enliven the works, but conceptually, they remain one-dimensional, shallow reflections on weighty themes. Most are painted in the vibrant, synthetic orange that Roseneder found so annoying in the carpets he used to sell in Turkey.

It’s just as grating here.


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