San Francisco Chronicle August 2004
By Kenneth Baker

Little 'repentances,' blurry details show art's proper place

"Upstarts" at Haines: The never-ending collision of nature and culture fascinates Southern Californian sculptor Carlee Fernandez. Her wall pieces crown the Haines Gallery's eye-catching group show, "Upstarts."

At first glance, Fernandez appears to work a vein connecting to the one Jeff Koons mined when he had saccharine table-top figurines blown up in scale. But she leaves everything actual size and uses real, not fabricated birds and other critters.

"Finches With Branches (5)" (2004) looks sweet enough until you notice that the taxidermic birds in the piece do not sit on the twigs but hang skewered by them.

The chicks in "Yellow Chicks With Branches (5)" (2004) have the branches threaded through them to produce a kind of avian pussy willow.

"White Pigeon With Diamond Dove" (2004) literally envisions one bird sailing through the other, a conjunction that appears lyrical and grotesque by turns. She might have named it "A Convergence of Birds," had not Jonathan Safran Foer already given that title aptly to his anthology of writers' responses to Joseph Cornell, an artist Fernandez's new work frequently brings to mind.

Taxidermy has already played a small part in modern art, in several famous works by Robert Rauschenberg, for example. Fernandez turns it to gentle punishment for how we sentimentalize nature to keep from thinking about humankind's assault on it.

Perhaps she also has in mind the popular muddle about evolution that still serves as a political wedge in certain parts of the nation. In any case, she brings a light, comic touch to updating classic surrealist reverie.

Norwegian artist Lucie Noël Thune works with unprojected film. She has spooled it tightly over undulant foam armatures to make maelstroms of material on the floor. They shimmer like churning whirlpools, physical symbols of unself-conscious immersion in cinema. They upstage completely Thune's wall-bound light-box pieces, which ask us to examine filmstrips frame by frame, a task only an editor could love.

Londoner Rana Begum offers what appear to be resin-coated stripe paintings. A couple look like even stacks of colored Plexiglas.

In fact, she makes these eye-throttling objects by banding wood or clear acrylic supports with slender strips of vinyl, electrical and lithographic tape. This discovery, though momentarily provocative, merely shifts into another key one's puzzlement as to what reward such laborious effort holds for the artist.

Upstarts: Rana Begum, Carlee Fernandez, Lucie Noël Thune: Works in mixed media. Through Aug. 28. Haines Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco. (415) 397- 8114, www.hainesgallery.com.