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Big Bang

An artist examines the anatomy of destruction.

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A similar sense of detachment and marvel is found in the Anderson Gallery's midcareer retrospective of New York artist Heide Fasnacht. Her work is set up on the first and second levels of the gallery as a series of staged "events." Her technique varies from tightly rendered graphite and color pencil drawings to enormous sculptures and installations that play off, and often overwhelm, the gallery space.

Each event is a freeze-framed rendering of a destructive moment. The demolition of a building the instant the charges go off; stills from a raging forest fire; a midair explosion of an airplane. Fasnacht picks apart these universal images of catastrophe particle by particle.

In one of the most effective installations in the show, Fasnacht turns a section of the gallery itself into a scene of incipient disaster. In "Precipitation," dozens of clear blue, stalactitelike cast-polyurethane drips burst through the ceiling to form puddles on the floor. On the opposing wall are hung three large colored-pencil drawings titled "Rain on Window — outward views into a storm." The effect is that of a three-dimensional DVD on pause, allowing the viewer to coolly walk around and survey the impending damage just seconds before total collapse of the roof. In another piece entitled "Imploding Wall," Fasnacht meticulously reconstructs a portion of the gallery's stairwell wall as it is being shattered by an unseen outside force.

Fasnacht carries her fascination with the tipping point into the abstract realm with a series of works based upon the act of sneezing. In "Sneeze V," the artist burns several small punctures into a sheet of rag paper, starting in a tightly clustered pattern and then scattering. "Big Sneeze" is reminiscent of a small polymer clay-on-rod Christmas tree rupturing through the gallery wall.

Despite the merits of the abstract works, it is the images of media-fed catastrophe that steal the show. In the Styrofoam and wire sculpture "Exploding Airplane," Fasnacht skillfully reproduces a 747 at the moment of disintegration. The monochromatic, gray/silver color of the piece first gives the impression that it was an event ripped straight from the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Second, it gives equal weight to both the dust-cloud destruction of the plane and the plane itself. The explosion occurs, in a transfer of energy from one form to another, as a barnaclelike growth.

The most striking aspect of these works is the way in which Fasnacht obliterates the sentimentality from these images. The viewer is invited to examine these scenes of disaster scientifically, as opposed to reacting to them viscerally. Perhaps this is helpful to an emotionally drained city that has seen more than its fair share of catastrophe. S



"Heide Fasnacht: Strange Attractors" is at Anderson Gallery, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St., through Dec. 5.





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