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Viles' use of objects creates new, often ironic meanings


An uproarious contemplation of industry and environmental hazards -- at once urgent and absurd -- is at the heart of "Industrial Strength: Textiles and Objects," the exhibit of John Viles' multimedia works at the Katzenstein Gallery.

Using such manufactured materials as plastic mesh, caution tape, and pylons, Mr. Viles has built stylized versions of rugs, chairs and other common objects. In so doing, the symbolic associations of both materials and objects interact with each other, creating new, richly ironic meanings.

Especially remarkable is Mr. Viles' use of color, which is almost totally limited to fluorescent shades of pink, yellow, red and orange. While the restrictive color composition imparts a single-minded intensity to the entire exhibit, there are so many ingenious combinations that each piece retains a singular identity.

The rug, with its connotations of security, seems particularly appropriate for Mr. Viles' artistic treatment, and indeed the pieces using rug imagery are among the strongest works. In "Security Blanket," caution tape is interwoven tightly with plastic fencing and wire. The tight, rigorous patterns and rapid alterations of neon color produce an effect of great anxiety and agitation.

By contrast, "Radon Rug" (1991) employs a greater variety of materials (including Mylar, yarn and chain), a less tightly woven surface, and various patterns on the work's surface. In general, this looser stylistic approach is more congenial and alluring.

Many of the pieces have a decidedly humorous tone -- a bit too heavy-handed in "Barricade Bra" (which adorns its nude model with two large red pylons), just right in "Genuine Imitation Cowhide," a chair decorated with rope, plastic toy gun and belt.

Certainly, John Viles is a talented artist. He speaks with cogent precision and strengthens his aesthetic statements immeasurably as a result.

Katzenstein Gallery is located at Scarlett Place, 729 E. Pratt St. The exhibit runs through Sept. 28. Call 727-0748.

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