Don’t let the title of the exhibition derail you: this is not a show of devices aimed at doing evil. It is a superb display of the intersection among art, mechanics, and whimsical beings. Finely crafted, imaginatively assembled, and possessing a balance of humor and insight, the work in this three-person exhibition is unique and eclectic. “Machinations” features the art of Jeremy Mayer, Nemo Gould, and Benjamin Cowden — all Oakland-based — in this new gallery’s second exhibition.
The common thread of these works is the assembling, reassigning, and recycling of found or archaic objects — often mechanical — to examine or explore creative inquiries or comment on the human condition. Evident is an interest in robotics and the inner workings of man-made systems. (Not surprisingly, all three artists presented work at the recent Maker Faire [http://makerfaire.com] at the San Mateo County Event Center during May.) Though sharing these similarities, the expressions are different. Mayer exclusively uses antique typewriter parts to creative human forms; he does not solder, weld, or glue any of the pieces, they are only reassembled. The three works here are extraordinarily detailed, beautiful, but the clear standout here is the graceful lifesized female figure “Nude IV, Delilah.”
Gould presents dioramas, large-scale figures, and wall-mounted pieces, including a green-backlit octopus creature, partially made out of a guitar, which is thus fittingly titled “Acoustapus.” The materials used to create these intricate and often funny works vary widely — wood, spare parts, a lens, a thermometer conduit, and much more have found their way in. Not everyone finds his work amusing, however. Gould created the larger-than-life, anatomically correct robot sculpture that met with neighborhood controversy in 2004 when best-selling author Robert Mailer Anderson and wife Nicola Miner — daughter of Oracle co-founder, Robert Miner — displayed it in front of their Pacific Heights home. The topics Gould explores range widely, from commentary on the struggling artist, to oil spills, the monkeys who died in space experiments, and his obsession with the aforementioned octopuses.
The four kinetic sculptures created by Cowden are clean and sleek, elegant forms. Using gears and other interworking mechanical parts with miniature human figures or fabricated body parts, the work examines the human experience. “A Series of Arbitrary but Passionate Decisions” points to the uncontrollable nature of life; “Eating my Cake and Having it Too,” which features a disembodied (fake) tongue and lollypop, examines that oft-quoted phrase.
This is tinkering taken to the level of sublime. This show serves as a reminder that, with ingenuity, curiosity, imagination, and the care of craftsmanship, our junk really can transformed into treasure.