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installation view
at Exit Art

Chico MacMurtie
The Horny Skeleton's Seduction of a Bird Girl

Keith Sanborn
history: theory: ecstasy: memory

Yucef Merhi
The Holy Land

Ornery Utopia
by Joe Fyfe

"Danger," Mar. 31-May 19, 2001, at Exit Art, 548 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012.

"Danger" introduces the work of eight artists who have forsaken the refined precincts of high art in search of the heart-thumping, hair-raising real world. Exit Art curator Papo Colo calls this kind of artist a cultural provocateur. "You are the unknown," he says, "an accident that frees your identity, a cultural option placed in the future."

The spirit of the show is very 1960s, with a kind of Whole Earth Catalog feel -- part utopian vision, part counter-cultural ingenuity, all overlaid by a Weatherman radicality. It's about living by your wits, politically aware, inventing a new world. 

Several works have that post-apocalyptic approach to machines. One of Robert Chambers' outsized sculptures, assembled from found industrial parts, is a giant fan wheel that viewers can pump so the blades spin and create a loud metallic scraping sound. Chico MacMurtries, a San Francisco artist who worked with Mark Pauline and who has recently relocated to New York, presents a group of rusty, computer-driven robots who perform a mechanized, sexualized danse macabre. 

Gregory Green, who is perhaps best known for his eerily real models of rockets and bombs, devised a more idealistic work for "Danger." Green's simple installation memorialized his failed attempt to establish The Free State of Caroline in the South Pacific, a country that would welcome the disenfranchised of the world. 

Keith Sanborn's installation includes a projection of a reworked Kennedy assassination film, in which Sanborn plays Moroccan celebratory music along with his colorized and altered clips from the Zapruder footage. As for Slaven Tolj, his suicidal performance was a absurdist comment on conflicts in his native Croatia -- he drank vodka and brandy until he was poisoned by the alcohol and had to be taken to the hospital. 

For his symbolic installation titled The Holy Land, Yucef Merhi buried computer serial ports in a Torah and a Koran, connecting them with barbed wire. Overhead, he hung a hybrid flag of Lebanon and Israel.

Other contributions to the show include David "The Impact Addict" Leslie's rocket launch of himself into a pile of 2,000 watermelons and Susan Seubert's photos of the most commonly used instruments in domestic violence cases.

In addition to the installations, "Danger" features a program of videotapes by eight other artists, including Chris Burden and Skip Arnold, two artists who are more notorious for courting the eponymous subject. 

In Peter Weir's film The Mosquito Coast, Harrison Ford plays an ornery, intelligent, creative man who attempts start his own civilization from scratch in the middle of the jungle. Weir's evocation of frustrated idealism is not unlike the prevailing esthetic in "Danger." 

Perhaps the best element here is the art's sense of stubbornness. It seems to say, "This is how I feel and the hell with you if you don't like it." That irrational imbalance fueled the experimentation of the '60s -- and would appear to be one of the guiding principles of new art today. 

JOE FYFE is an artist who writes on art.

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