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Weight and whimsy 

The California Sculpture Slam gets weird and wonderful at the SLOMA

- DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD :  Sculptor Douglas Thielscher takes Biblical inspiration for many of his stone creations. Pictured is Babble. -  - PHOTOS BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD : Sculptor Douglas Thielscher takes Biblical inspiration for many of his stone creations. Pictured is Babble.
- MANUFACTURED BREEZE :  A scarf and a 1940s fan are part of Belinda Hanson’s piece A Perfect Day, part of the California Sculpture Slam exhibit at the SLOMA. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • MANUFACTURED BREEZE : A scarf and a 1940s fan are part of Belinda Hanson’s piece A Perfect Day, part of the California Sculpture Slam exhibit at the SLOMA.

A stone tongue curls lecherously toward the ceiling. A bulbous, alien mass suckles a pristine white cube. A binky dangles uselessly from a silver-plated gas mask.

There’s no common theme to the 64 works in the California Sculpture Slam, a juried exhibit currently on view at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art; there’s just a general presiding absurdity. The Slam, juried by Charles Arnoldi, is the product of an affiliation between the Central Coast Sculptors and the museum and represents the efforts of 45 sculptors throughout the state. Represented are locals like Timo Beckwith, whose simple, elegant works Slipper and Serpentine Ridge are right at home in a show of California’s best. Local painter David Settino Scott has three pieces in the show. His works The Navigator and The Flying Machine reference means of conveyance through the use of simple, delicate materials.

But most artists in the show are from out of town, providing a refreshing cross section of contemporary West Coast sculpture.

The method and medium varies. Belinda
Hanson’s
A Perfect Day is comprised of a vanity table, a 1940s fan, a silently turning vinyl record, and a scarf, which blows softly in the manufactured breeze. It’s not the objects themselves that matter so much as their unusual arrangement.

Yaya Chou’s chandelier of gummy bears is wonderful; it allows viewers to, for an instant anyway, appreciate the beauty of what appear to be semi-translucent, brightly colored gems. Guests who take a step closer will realize they had just been mentally elevating Haribo candies to the holy heights of fine art. (“I thought they were crystals,” one viewer remarked.)

Dinner in Santa Ana is a work in resin, steel, and chicken feet by Seth Hawkins, who currently resides in San Pedro. The piece was inspired by the artist’s move to Santa Ana and his subsequent discovery that chicken feet were a common food item in its grocery stores. The popular piece has made the rounds to several art shows already, Hawkins said in a phone interview. Dinner in Santa Ana became part of a “Dinner in …” series, in which Hawkins explored the oddities of eating in foreign places—“foreign” being a relative term. What’s foreign to you could be mother’s milk to someone else.

Babble, the aforementioned tongue by Berkeley artist Douglas Thielscher, is an extremely heavy work carved in red Persian travertine. In fact, it’s technically too heavy to be included in the show.

“Nobody read the fine print about the weight limit,” Thielscher laughed from a phone booth in Scotland, where he was vacationing.

But everyone’s apparent oversight is our gain. Babble, with its seductive, dangerous twists and subtle, skillfully rendered clefts and bumps, is both a reference to the Biblical tower and to the power of the tongue to both enlighten and deceive.

- PACIFIER :  Howie Katz applied gold and silver leaf to a children’s gas mask from Lithuania to create his piece Carlito’s Way. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • PACIFIER : Howie Katz applied gold and silver leaf to a children’s gas mask from Lithuania to create his piece Carlito’s Way.
- PARASITIC CUBE :  Robert Hitzeman is fascinated by viruses and parasites, as evidenced by his piece Eat the Cube: Host 2. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE. E. MILLER
  • PARASITIC CUBE : Robert Hitzeman is fascinated by viruses and parasites, as evidenced by his piece Eat the Cube: Host 2.

The artist said he prefers to work with heavy, resistant things, objects that seem to fight back at his attempts to wrangle a sculpture out of them. And his ability to evoke delicateness in such a bulky medium is uncanny.

Robert Hitzeman’s Eat the Cube: Host 2 depicts a brilliantly colored parasite affixing itself to a sterile white cube. It’s part of a larger body of similarly parasitic works, inspired by the writings of the Irish sculptor Brian O’Doherty, who described a piece of art as a blemish on an otherwise pristine wall.

In the same vein, sort of, is Recolonizing by Jennifer Brazelton, a Bay Area ceramicist with an affection for viruses. Her work, in her words, is about “oscillating back and forth between the macro and the micro.” She often checks out virus blogs for inspiration, interested in the way microscopic entities mimic the appearance of bigger things, like hills and roads and gardens. Airplane travel, too, was a formative creative experience, allowing her to observe highways becoming veins, rivers becoming knotted ropes.

Like much of her science-inspired work, Recolonizing takes certain artistic liberties. A line of knobbly round things turns out, upon closer inspection, to consist of little baby heads.

Howie Katz’s Carlito’s Way is a sculpture made out of a children’s gas mask from Lithuania. Katz has applied silver and gold leaf to the piece, in the same manner that parents cast their baby’s first shoes in bronze.

- GRAND SLAM:  The California Sculpture Slam is on view at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, located at 1010 Broad St., through Sept. 30. The museum is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 543-8562 or visit sloma.org for more. -
  • GRAND SLAM: The California Sculpture Slam is on view at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, located at 1010 Broad St., through Sept. 30. The museum is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 543-8562 or visit sloma.org for more.

“It’s like a trophy, or an award,” he said.

A gold and silver pacifier dangles poignantly, if pointlessly.

As with many works in the show, an object that was once valuable on a utilitarian, if not aesthetic, level has had its priorities reversed—and in doing so, momentarily elevated the consciousness of the beholder.

Arts Editor Anna Weltner is a virus that combats boredom. Send tales of formerly dull days to aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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