Shana Robbins: Nature versus nurture

Getting down and dirty at White Spec

There is the dank smell of earth and a feeling of being cut off from the real world for a time in the White Spec gallery where Shana Robbins' current body of work is on view. Across the courtyard from White Space Gallery, White Spec offers a more theatrical, immersive, old-timey escape from the here and now. The former wine cellar has an ambiance richly suited to the organic, moss-and-dirt concerns of this artist.

Entering White Spec feels like stumbling into some odd, esoteric museum in Paris or Amsterdam devoted to medieval torture or medical history. There is an uneven brick floor, visible duct work and then an array of paintings and the costumes Robbins uses in her performance pieces. Robbins appears in her Super-8 film "This Is Me. Be Careful" and in paintings done on book pages as a kind of Victorian tree priestess in long dress and high collar with a crooked wooden yucca-branch staff, hobbling through the forest on an unspecified mission.

Like Matthew Barney, Robbins is an artist dealing with nature/culture, eerie blends of music and performance and a partly invented mythology. If Barney has often taken masculinity and the male sex organs as his focus, Robbins has a comparable interest in linking nature and the feminine. Her costume, featuring an enormous satin hair bow (like those sad stick-ons plunked on girl-baby heads to signify "female") and lace, speaks to conventional, antiquated views of femininity. But her ornamentation of bark and Spanish moss and a face kept hidden from view give the impression of some mythic, eternal woman who haunts the primordial forest.

This Is Me. Be Careful appears alongside a greatest-hits compilation of past and future White Space artists in The December Show. Seen alongside Robbins' nature-centric work, there are many lovely overlaps, including Jonathan Bouknight's vaporous, delicate drawing of tree branches that flirt with human form. And Robbins may have a kindred spirit in Beth Marcum, whose sumptuous-scary oil painting "Fruit" features birds feasting on fat, dangling pomegranates with an unsettling resemblance to sinew and blood. When the lovely and the primal, the human and nature come together, the effect can be wonderfully disturbing.

This Is Me. Be Careful and The December Show. Through Jan. 19. White Space Gallery, 814 Edgewood Ave. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 404-688-1892. www.whitespace814.com.

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