Artweek, November 2002
By James Scarborough

Carlee Fernandez at Acuna-Hansen Gallery

Carlee Fernandez’s work waxes Surrealist with its unexpected juxtapositions. The individual pieces don’t focus on a finished product. That is, they don’t emerge from the artist’s studio full-grown, like Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea cups. Rather, they focus on the process of their creation. As befits their Surrealist heritage, the combinations are startling, some downright weird. The artist takes stuffed animals, small animals, ones we think of as “cute” and either skewers them with the branches of a tree that she then mounts on the wall or else mounts the wee beasties themselves directly on the wall. Easter-cute, as in parakeets and chicks, finches and rabbits. Weird, as in a rat and a lobster.

Two of the bird pieces resemble Audobon prints. Finches with branches and Finches with branches, petit show small birds with a network of branches running through them, as if they were going to be barbecued on a reality television survivalist show. Northing is unusual in these two pieces. They seem to refer with obliqueness to a diorama in a natural history museum. That idea is quickly dispelled when the other pieces are given a second glace.

In White parakeets with branches, three small white birds hang off the branch of a tree. They, too, are pieced with branches (“No, my child, they’re not dead, they’re only sleeping.”). They, too, have the same unsullied quality of the other two pieces, but differ significantly. In the first two pieces, the birds are a single organic entity, the tree is another. In this piece, though, the feathers of the birds creep up the length of the branch. It’s the same tarred and feathered articulation of the other works in the show. Blue parakeets with branches, six birds, blue, with blue feathers climbing up the branches. Ditto for the yellow chicks.

In an odder but similar vein are three other pieces. Rat with grapes show a rat, presented as if caught pausing to catch its breath as it climbs up the gallery’s wall, commingling with a bunch of grapes. The union is more thorough than that of the feathers and the branches: the grapes appear to erupt out of the rat, who doesn’t seem all that concerned. Same, too, with Rabbit with strawberries. Here the metamorphosis is more apparent. The strawberries seem to grow from inside the rabbit: leaves blossom out of the rabbit’s feet. No luck, here. Finally, Lobster with coral offers a lobster splayed on the wall, a plume of coral in the place of a head. The perch becomes a body part.

Fernandez arrests the flux of metamorphosis. Remember those old Lon Chaney movies in which he would awkwardly become the hairy Wolf Man in slow motion? Fernandez’s pieces are the sculptural equivalent. It isn’t so much a question of whether they begin as a finch and end as a feathered tree. The point is, to get from one state to the other, something has to change. Even in the phantasmagorical world of Surrealism, certain organic laws must be observed. Change permeates everything. That’s why the title, Still Lifes, is so ironic: the work is anything but static.