Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ornithanatophobia at the Black Drop

Ornithanatophobia is an installation of collaborative art pieces by Kathleen Houseman and Corey Urlacher on display now at the Black Drop. Ornithanatophobia indicates the fear of birds and death. Each piece, appropriately enough, is composed of a painted bird by Houseman and a sculpted/found skull or bone by Urlacher. The works are displayed in beautiful dark frames. Several feature clock faces or dials under thick layerings of laquer. The overall effect is of Vanitas Allegories from the 16th and 17th centuries. Time is fleeting. Birds of Appetite. Memento Mori. You too will die.

Sitting at the Black Drop on another gray day in Bellingham, a wide spectrum of associations comes to mind. From Poe's Raven to Coleridge's Albatross of the Ancient Mariner. There is a disconcerting tension between Housemann's two-dimensional painted birds, cut and mounted into the sculpted three-dimensional constructs by Urlacher. I have to admit that at first this put me off. I thought each exceptional as stand alone pieces, juxtapositions of style and technique threw me off.

However, after sitting with them for a while, allowing my predispositions to fade, it started to work as a kind of Gestalt. Like those drawings that can either be young girl or an old woman, a mirror or a skull, it is difficult to see the work as a whole. You want to either fall into the world of the birds or the world of the bones. As you move from one to the other, there is a visual echo, persistence of vision, that carries over. The birds sitting upon skulls, surrounded by bones, frozen gazes, stomachs full of human flesh, symbols of the transience of human life. Then the skulls and bones, glazed over with time, almost animate in style, on the verge of jumping out of the frame and dancing macabre, chasing the birds away, souls chattering into the skies.

It is rare to find art at this level, with this depth, on display at a local coffeehouse. It is well worth the effort of stopping by the Black Drop, sitting with an excellent cup of coffee, and contemplating the fear of birds and the fear of death surrounding you.

Ornithanatophobia: Gallery on Kathleen Houseman's Facebook
Goatus Art: Corey Urlacher
The Black Drop

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