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Indiscriminate Software: The Vagina proves bigger isn't necessarily better

The vagina suffers from a classic Catch-22. Either heaped with too much of the wrong kind of attention or ignored altogether, this misunderstood bodily nook has something in common with perceptions about another steamy region, the South. When people do talk about it, it's to make misinformed, biased statements about its mysteries. Or, like Northerners who refuse to believe there's anything worth knowing about going on below the Mason-Dixon, it is never really pondered in the first place.

In a follow-up to the Big Dick Extravaganza Hardware at Eyedrum last year, Atlanta artist Cecelia Kane gives the vagina center stage in Software: The Vagina, a group show devoted to this second fiddle at The Art Spot.

Those who have had little acquaintance with the vagina should take heed before visiting Software. At many turns, the work makes the harmless little girl accessory look like the biggest horror racket since Anthony Perkins took a cleaver to Janet Leigh in Psycho. Like some hairy, wet, peering, voracious nightmare dreamed up between the Surrealists, Al Goldstein and David Cronenberg's prop man, the vagina starring in Software often runs the gamut from creepy to scary, as in Tim Quay's nightmarish photo of a gooey ovum-esque creature or Anne Marie Manker Downs' eyeball-vagina.

Perceptions of the vagina are, thus, absurdly individual. Yet it's not the individual but a kind of mob rule that dominates Software. Like countless Atlanta group shows that seem to assume bigger is better, the problem with Software is a common one. There is simply too much art going on in this exhibit featuring 30 artists. And as usual, the great stuff gets smothered in the mess of too much, and some plainly lame work ends up insulting the good stuff by proximity.

There is, on the other hand, work so resolutely intelligent in Software, it gets your dander up when it's placed next to sloppy, randomly chosen stuff. Such haphazardness makes the curator's job more akin to shipping and receiving than judicious selection. While there is a commendable spirit and energy involved in organizing such a provocative show in a local art scene that could certainly use a good kick in the pants, there is also a lamentable lack of necessary bikini waxing of this thorny bush.

Plenty of exceptional work abounds, from Sheila Swift's photographic examination of our strangely distanced view of childbirth to Mia Merlin's exquisite memory painting of children lost in a sensual reverie.

There are myriad examples of artists who are even more phenomenal because while they share materials in common with some of Software's less convincing artists, they use them in far more precise, clever ways. Such pieces illustrate the alchemic capabilities of the artist who can turn the same basic materials into gold as in Lynn Gay's wonderful tent installation "Cuntipotent." In this translation of the vagina into a comforting, teenage girl sanctuary, the genitalia is re-envisioned not as drudgery or shame but as a cozy little secret with a soft, nurturing interior viewers can crawl inside.

In the same small alcove as the strangely reassuring "Cuntipotent" is its antithesis, "The Rape #2" by the Amazing Lizardos. Reminiscent of Mike Kelley's icky-Freudian work with stuffed animals, "Rape" contains a violent attack documented on a tiny TV screen that's been placed inside the gaping mouth of a dopey looking doll/dog/pillow. The effect of using this innocence-coded creature is sickeningly instructive — and ends up illustrating two-fold the despicable ugliness of the act.

Software boasts a nice range of media, in sculpture, painting, installation work and photography. Several pieces, such as Moondy/Linda Mitchell's sculpture "23 Seconds," delight in forcing the viewer to peer, bend, squint or otherwise assume a voyeuristic gynecological view, coming in close to survey the heart of the matter. Ranging in media, but also in tone, work like "23 Seconds" makes a disturbing connection between the body, bullet holes, blood and violence, while other work takes a more feminine, delicate tack.

In Susan Krause's flesh-tinted "Apron," the artist offers a smart rendition of the body part in question formed out of Silly Putty. The piece comments upon the similar crafting of the female body into a retro faux-hide, a manufactured idea of sexuality worn in place of a woman's true sex.

Though constantly represented culturally as a dirty secret or all-too-public strumpet, the real vagina is more about a relationship between its owner and admirers. That quirky, often poetic bond is attested to in Julie Stuart and Kate Flachs' brazenly silly marriage of text and vaginal "fingerprints" titled "Read My Lips." The piece offers a rare show of humor in a too often serious-as-a-nunnery show.

In page after page of mounted text, regular folk offer their anonymous musings, anecdotes, dirty doggerel and valentines to the Great Inverted One. The meditations on the vagina include one of uncontainable zest from a self-described "52-year-old guy" whose opinion neatly sums up the more laissez-faire attitude of its owners and admirers. He writes:

"My position on the vagina?"

"I'm for it!"

<a href=mailto:"felicia.feaster@creative loafing.com">felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

Software: The Vagina Show runs through March 14 at The Art Spot, 704 McGruder St. Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-659-0088.??