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Weird science: Intergel

Intergel creates an alternate universe at City Gallery at Chastain

Body fixations. UFO phenomena. Marine life. Viruses and molecular biology. These are just a few of the concepts visualized in the spirals, spheres, rings and tentacled objects shaped by California-based artist Deborah Aschheim for her site-specific installation Intergel at City Gallery at Chastain. Aschheim's show is illuminated in a timed sequence that moves around the dimly lit room to spotlight different elements of the environment, creating a disorienting sensorial effect that gives viewers the impression they're entering a galaxy or traversing a deep seabed. The artist conducts her experiments with an odd fusion of media — baby bottle nipples, vitamin E gelcaps, wood, silk and shellac. Variegated curvilinear forms are suspended from transparent filaments or placed on the floor throughout the gallery. From hand-sized to body-sized, the creamy white shapes are sometimes dripping with yellow epoxy and always covered in shellac and phosphorescent paint. On a 15-minute loop, the lighting pulls the viewer through the space from one vignette to another. There are moments when the lights go out altogether, making the floor and walls disappear, leaving the room aglow with a familiar yet unearthly universe.

Shifting in their countenance from great mid-air drawings to three-dimensional biology models, from constellations to juggling balls and life rings, about 100 elements compose Intergel. In one small scene, rubber nipples are inverted to form a curving horn and four suspended globes. A nippled orbit of 10 rings and 16 spheres arches through the space and seems to continue through the wall. Golden spirals with bulbous nodules stretch from ceiling to floor or swirl vertically across the room. Amber shapes like sea anemones undulate their tentacles. The tactile/don't touch environment makes for weird science.

Intergel is named after the company that provided Aschheim with the countless gelcaps that coat certain sculptures. She named an earlier installation Evenflo to recognize the source of the myriad rubber nipples surfacing her work. Materials that reference nurturing and have sensual undertones contradict the artist's notions about biological warfare and obsessive body anxiety.

During an artist's residency in UFO-crazed Roswell, N.M., Aschheim started thinking about different types of body snatchers, remarking that the world's early paranoia about outer space had given way to a preoccupation with microbial invaders of our interior landscape. In these eerie, comic and elegant life forms she has greatly magnified the excess and decay generated by our almost unhealthy physical absorption. The viewer is compelled into a real-time metaphoric invasion of his or her own body. The ironic implications of Intergel are both amusing and cautionary.

Intergel continues through Nov. 10 at City Gallery at Chastain, 135 W. Wieuca Road. Opening reception is Sept. 15, 6 to 9 p.m. 404-257-1804.



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