Vanishing act

E.K. Huckaby laments loss at Solomon Projects

E.K. Huckaby, an artist with a bent for mad science and slightly unnatural history, has created a nostalgic Southern environment inside Solomon Projects this month. Now painted in mauve, the venue once again reveals its chameleon properties.

Entering Dept. of Dysiatrics is like dipping into a well of melancholy. Assembled, altered and concocted objects — vintage medicine bottles, handkerchiefs, tiny vials of amber liquid, human teeth, stuffed birds, reels of film, snails, stamps, a tapestry, eggs and other curiosities — haunt the space.

Viewers may need a dictionary for this show. Huckaby has long been known for giving his work obtuse titles. Dysiatrics is a word that Huckaby contrived from Greek roots "dys" (mistakes) and "iatrics" (the practice of), the essence of his artistic process. Every piece in the show is about losing something vital, about the loss of memory, words, innocence and identity. In a universe glossed over with the ever new, this inventive homage to the past is more than thought-provoking.

At the entrance, the artist shaped a vintage telephone out of wax to remember "That Soft Voice That I'll Never Hear Again." Nearby, the diorama "Tooth Fairy" animates childhood dreams and fairytales. A wood sideboard, a pile of extracted human teeth, ivory, coins and a small gray bearded figure set the stage for shared memory. The assemblage evokes any number of magical rituals devised to ease the inevitable ruin of innocence.

Stamps from around the world line the inner walls of an old post office booth for "Aporia" (expression of doubt), reliquary for a disappearing means of personal communication. Besides all the stamps, there's a pile of letters neatly addressed by hand to the Department of Dysiatrics in Brooks, Ga. (Huckaby's home town). On a shelf in a glass jar floats the specimen of a tongue, sacrificial reminder of profound human loss.

One of the show's two paintings, "Lethe," refers to the river in Dante's Inferno where memory is lost. On its slumping surface, numbered white pins point out otherwise unremarkable moments in a dark topography. "Lethe" recalls Huckaby's earlier paintings made with hand-mixed pigments intended to shift and harden over time. The painting seems to fix the dark shape of our inner emotional landscape.

"Aphasia," meaning "loss of words," refers both to a medical condition and a temporary failure to enunciate thought. Here, clear glass tubes contain vertical rows of tiny, white, hand-lettered beads that once comprised sentences. Purposely jostled on its journey to the gallery, only the title word (wired in place) remains fixed. This work, among others in the show, makes one think about the beauty that may come with the loss of clarity.

In "Other People," a rectangular, wall-mounted wooden box displays two rows of eggs. Each shell is sectioned off with neatly handwritten descriptive words such as perspicacity, zealotry, awkward, maladroit, cleanliness, vulgarity, submissive and unruly. Delightfully obtuse, one wonders whether Huckaby is critiquing the practice of labels or mocking the emotional impotence of science.

The artist calls these tableaux a "sentimental insignia of what has vanished and what may never be." Familiar symbols in his intricate and multi-layered art compel the viewer to slow down and think about incongruities in life. A whimsical lament, Dept. of Dysiatrics is remarkable for its sophisticated ambiguity and deep reverence of the Southern experience.

Dept. of Dysiatrics continues through June 2 at Solomon Projects, 1037 Monroe Drive. Wed.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 404 875-7100. www.solomonprojects.com.??

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