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Melody Owen
at The Art Gym at Marylhurst University, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Across the multifarious output of Portland-based artist Melody Owen, animals have long played a role, whether via the insects implicit in her stylized beehives of the early 2000s or the birds at the heart of her monumental birdsong sculptures of 2008. In "So Close to the Glass and Shivering" the artist displays her fascination with animal life, shifting her focus to whales. Her 11-foot-long "Stranded Whale" lies beached upon the hardwood floors, its painted steel wiring casting evocative shadows, the open grating outlining the whale’s shape. Typically, the piece calls as much attention to what is absent as to what is present.  In "Beluga Sound Wave" she has turned a soundwave of recorded whale song into a carved wooden sculpture, cleverly transmuting an abstraction of sonic notation into a physical object. Mounted drolly on the wall, the piece resembles a coat rack. Another carved piece, "The Love Letter to an Ocean Creature," turns an outsized large vine from Borneo into a shape resembling the tusk of a narwhal. An affecting video installation shows slow-motion footage of a tiger and a beluga whale in captivity, the slo-mo heightening the big cat’s and sea mammal’s eerily human expressions and presences, at least in appearance. While the 14 slides and collage works displayed on a light box in "Behind the Mountains was Empty Space" do not cohere as tightly with the rest of the work as they might have, the show as a whole reminds viewers of Owen’s gift for pensive, understated installation work that nevertheless wields an aggregate of powerful, sometimes inexplicable, emotional impact.

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