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Barbara MacCallum's art ponders the work of her husband, planetary physicist R.E. Johnson.

Cosmic Bodies

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Entering 1708 Gallery one hears the sound of planetary physicist R.E. Johnson's voice earnestly intoning his scientific manifesto. The gently scratchy recitation overcomes the cavernous exhibition space, relentlessly deliberating on and crediting recent advances in his field. Johnson is reading from his latest publication "Stimulated Desorption of Atoms and Molecules from Bodies in Outer Space." Barbara MacCallum, the gallery's featured artist — and Johnson's wife — has given her exhibition in the front gallery the same intimidating title. She has created a somewhat anti-scientific installation around her husband and his professional concentration. MacCallum has plaster-cast Johnson as a body of the outer solar system in three suspended portraits that seem to have physically attracted, assimilated and/or absorbed his scientific hypotheses as an imprint on their epidermis. The three headless, cast male figures, equipped with motion sensors, hover in space from woven straps that extend upward. They are nude but for their tattoos of cosmic terminology and the extraordinary garments that partially clothe each figure. Quilting and stitching the 8 1/2 by 11 pages of her husband's scientific papers, MacCallum makes him some melodramatic costumes of a curiously feminine nature. He has become an outlandish marionette outfitted in exotic fashion. Like an effigy of some intellectual heretic — the sort of cad who embeds moons in icy strata and relocates Europa from her mythical post in the legion of goddesses to a subservient entity with escaping gasses — Johnson hangs before us as an example to the scientific community. A rich textural beauty evolves from MacCallum's technique of washing Johnson's writings, wringing them, ironing them and backing them with various unexpected materials, usually endowing the finished fabric with an oddly ancient quality. In these she also inserts a bit of kitsch with fake fur in mercurochrome colors. In the first of the three sculptures, the figure has been dressed in a quilted, tiered skirt parted in the front. The stylistic identity of the skirt might be gypsy dancer or Southern belle. Both associations propose high feminine guile and with their wealth of yardage and sweep, are flirtatious and forward, expressive of imagined mysteries of what lies hidden. MacCallum's stitching style is a hasty, colorful basting stitch — traditionally the first stage of piecing fabric, or the sewing technique most used by the beginner. The applied language on the quilted papers is also collaged on the skin of the figure. It is Page 1 of Johnson's conference paper. Abbreviated excerpts pepper the surface of both figure and skirt referring to such effects of the universe as desorption and decomposition. They are uttered by Johnson intermittently as the viewer triggers a hidden sensor. The large tiered skirt, immodestly open in front, is perhaps referential of the cosmos, great and encompassing, layered and irrevocably breached by the inquisitive industry of science. A little diagram of Dione (a satellite of Saturn) shows up repeatedly as a design element. Its spidery arching appendages seem to be reiterated in the arms of the cast figure, which looks art-historically like Christ lifted down from the cross. Figure No. 2 is sheathed in copious duplicate fragments from Page 2. This figure's garb is a hooded cloak. Constructed to stand on its own starched strength, it is also volcanic with a vivid interior. There, acrylic fur transforms rather remarkably into a volatile theatrical atmosphere of gas and heat. The straps that suspend this piece, as well as the others, from the ceiling of the gallery — or conceptually from the heavens — have more of Johnson's scholarly missive rising up their length. They may remind one of an early Flemish painting technique for conveying a conversation between mortal subjects and their God in a vertical ribbon of text. The final sculpture, based on Page 3, hangs upside down like a martyr or thief, unclothed except for his airbound straps. If this is a Holy Trinity, this one is the Spirit; if a trilogy, this is the finale. Or perhaps these naked forms are the human male equivalent of mythology's Three Graces, who are said to have enhanced the enjoyment of life through their attributes and have woven extraordinary fabric for the

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