If you missed "Alien She" in its first iteration, at Carnegie Mellon University's Miller Gallery, no need to despair. The ambitious traveling exhibition, named for a song by the punk-rock band Bikini Kill and exploring the influence of Riot Grrrl, the punk feminist movement born in the early 1990s, has come to Vox Populi before heading West to San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, Calif., and the Pacific Northwest College of Art's Feldman Gallery in Portland, Ore.
Where the "art" part of "Alien She" occasionally falls overboard into activism territory, the exhibition more than compensates with the exhaustive documentation of the Riot Grrrl movement undertaken by its curators Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss.
Vox's front gallery has been transformed into a library of self-published zines and handmade posters displayed on wall-size racks (seen sideways from a distance, these aggregations of colorful little self-published magazines look like giant quilts or abstract paintings) accompanied by display cases of cassette tapes, letters, band T-shirts, and other ephemera. Recordings of salient punk-rock songs can be listened to and videos of interviews with prominent riot grrrls can be watched.
The show also features small solo shows by seven artists whose practices have clearly been informed by Riot Grrrl ethos and tactics but whose works are surprisingly stylistically diverse.
One might not expect Riot Grrrl-inspired work to be poignant, but that is the feeling I took away from Miranda July's video chain-letter Joanie4Jackie (originally called Big Miss Moviola) project. July solicited short films from women, compiled them on videocassettes, and then sent them to the participants and to subscribers to her project. Letters sent to July by young aspiring female filmmakers, arranged in a display case near the video monitor, are especially moving.
On the other hand, conceiving of an art that involves crafting and the subversion of brand names would seem very much in sync with Riot Grrrl strategies, and Stephanie Syjuco has covered both in one fell swoop with her display of designer handbags masterfully crocheted by her and others with the aid of her downloadable PDF instructional guide for "creating knockoff logos."
Though they initially seem more contemplative than attitudinal, Tammy Rae Carland's large, sumptuous color photographs of empty stages and empty (but obviously slept-in) beds argue against making assumptions. You don't know who inhabited these spaces before she showed them to you, but she surely does.
If they were described to you, you might say Allyson Mitchell's "Ladies Sasquatch" trio was exactly what you expected from a show on the theme of the Riot Grrrl movement (or the Guerrilla Girls, for that matter). These three giant gorillalike figures look like they'd happily tear a man to shreds. But they're so humorously exaggerated - as if Mitchell made them imagining herself as a female-fearing man - you have to smile at her grotesque burlesque show.
"Alien She" also includes works by Faythe Levine, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, and L.J. Roberts.
If groups of JJ Miyaoka-Pakola's seemingly entirely abstract watercolor paintings appear to be more alike than others - and also like something familiar, a landscape perhaps - it is not your imagination.
The New York artist, in his first solo show with Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art, replicates the same settings and points of view in groups of two or four paintings, but paints entirely different patterns within them. Each setting is borrowed from a found image - a romantic photo of a glacial lake was one source, a grisly murder scene another - from which he removes all extraneous detail, leaving a template for his own graphic walkabouts.
These are all handsome paintings, but the ones that incorporate the most complex all-over patterning, as in his series "OR," are the most visually arresting.
In conjunction with the recent installation of her large-scale, site-specific sculpture Crum Creek Meander on Swarthmore College's Parrish South Lawn, environmentally oriented artist Stacy Levy has also created an indoor installation in the college's List Gallery.
For Waterways, which takes up the List's entire floor, Levy has drawn an enormous map made up solely of the peregrinations of Crum Creek and its numerous tributaries (the Delaware River, into which Crum Creek runs, is also on the map) on brown paper. With help from volunteers, Levy also collected water from all of the waterways on her map and has placed jars (donated from local companies) containing those samples along their matching waterway.
Remove your shoes, please.