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Laurel Roth; Tomoko Konoike
Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco, California
Reviewed by DeWitt Cheng


Tomoko Konoike, ''4971 planet #1 first words.''


Continuing through October 26, 2013

The natural world may be the ostensible common subject of Laurel Roth’s and Tomoki Konoike’s concurrent solo shows, but real animals are not the point; their transformation into symbols, overt or enigmatic, is. Roth’s sculptures serve as ironic trophies of human-caused extinctions; Konoike’s drawings, sculptures and video projection use the animal (or human-animal hybrid) as surrogates for the artist and viewer in imaginary adventures reminiscent of fairy tales, but without discernible story lines, removed even from their apparent sources in Japanese folklore.

Roth’s "Flight of the Dodo" takes its name from the flightless bird, comically human looking, that was hunted to extinction by Dutch sailors, becoming a byword for being, to quote Monty Python, “bereft of life.” The artist explores the issue of current and impending animal extinctions by enthroning the dodo in an intricately carved wooden relief in the style of European royal regalia featuring “nobler” birds like eagles in a golden sunburst, surrounded not by doves of peace, or cherubs, in the princely style, but common pigeons — which are not exactly endangered. Accompanying this wall piece are eight sculptures set on red velvet pillows atop pedestals: carved wooden pigeons outfitted with the crocheted plumage of a parrot and a caracara (a South American raptor); gorilla and chimpanzee skulls and severed hands crafted from fine woods and embellished with metal, crystal and stone fittings; and preening and combative peacocks (“La Reina” and “Queen”) composed of such odd materials as fake fingernails, nail polish, false eyelashes, and costume jewelry. These serve as symbols of human vanity and display (though there may be some poetic license at play here, since my recollection is that peahens are drably colored).

Konoike’s "Earthshine" takes its title from the light reflected from the blue planet, and her work has an appropriately otherworldly feel, combining Japanese folklore (as mentioned), anime, and interests in precious (or precious-looking) materials and the decorative arts like Roth’s. Childlike, huge-eyed girls’ heads reminiscent of kewpie dolls emerge from or petrify into hematite or rock crystals, or gaze at the viewer, eyes filled with daggers, in three large drawings. Among this group, one sculpted head emerges from a cratered white lunar sphere, while another peeks from the stylized flower petals. A video projection and a room-sized folding screen ("Earthshine") unfold ambiguous stories involving gigantic flowers, daggers, human skulls, wolves, and bee-headed (beheaded?) little flying girls. A life-sized sculpture of a wolf, covered with mirror shards, stalks nearby, and a mirror-plated volcano sprouts (or envelops) ambiguous facial features.

Gallery Wendi Norris

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