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Andrea Dezso
at Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas
Review by Troy Schulze

Known for her small 'tunnel books,' Andrea Dezso takes them to large scale with spectacular results.

Romanian native Andrea Dezso is known for her one-of-a-kind “tunnel books,” intricate, miniature, handmade books made of stacked layers of paper that depict three-dimensional scenes of fantasy and science fiction. Rice Gallery asked Deszo if she’d be interested going large-scale for the gallery’s summer window installation, and the result is “Sometimes In My Dreams I Fly,” a spectacular self-contained alien world.

The gallery windows have been blacked out, except for openings of various sizes that act as portals into Dezso’s underground landscapes. She describes her world as “lunar,” but organic life exists on this moon. The cave-like interiors are populated by insect and humanoid characters with names like “Dome Brain Man,” “Pumpkin Teeth” and “Quatro Dexterous Leaf-Brained Man.” “Space Jelly Fish” and “Pumpkintoothed Doubleheaded Bipeds” float around architectural elements that resemble power lines, water towers, oil derricks and landmarks like Seattle’s Space Needle. Layers of formica board, some even 10 layers deep and carefully lighted, create an effect of endless depth.

According to Dezso, the tunnel-scapes reference the Apollo 13 mission, which never actually landed on the moon. It’s also the mission during which the famous phrase “Houston, we have a problem” was uttered. Besides the Houston connection, Dezso believes the work represents an “epic mental odyssey,” the kind one embarks on when physical travel is thwarted. We replace the physical journey with an imaginary one.

It’s somewhat interesting background information, but it’s extraneous. There’s nothing in the installation that actually references NASA or Houston. In fact, the work’s only recognizable image from space-race history is Sputnik, hovering there in the middlemost (and largest) tunnel. More than anything, Dezso seems to be mining childhood fantasies and memories of Soviet-era Transylvania, where travel was limited.

Mostly, the work is impressive in its scope and attention to detail. Colors are realized through a combination of paint and stage lighting, bathing each layer in alternating shades of green, blue and pink. The cast of characters, cut by laser and represented in silhouette on an especially stiff type of poster board, is a particularly non-threatening alien race, seemingly plant-animal hybrid forms with a child-like innocence. Some of the tunnels are small and low, perfect for a child’s-eye view. One tiny tunnel is ringed in human arms that appear to grow out of the rock. It’s the most surreal and borderline disturbing one of the bunch.

Glare creates a problem during the daytime, making it necessary to press against the glass, but Dezso came up with an interesting solution that augments the piece. She painted large-scale silhouettes of her characters on the gallery’s outer windows, creating a correlating reflection that echoes the installation’s inner worlds. It’s a mesmerizing piece and a benchmark in Dezso’s career. Hopefully, she’ll continue down the path of large-scale works. Or rather, down the tunnel.

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