Crashing the Cuckoo’s Nest

    Noah Doely

    If you walked past the door to second-year Noah Doely’s studio without stepping in, you had little choice but to double-take. His room contained a tower of Victorian cupboards and boxes stacked like a snowman with a brightly colored bird perched on top. Every door and drawer was cracked open to reveal glass vials and bits of coral — a child’s treasure trove of assorted knickknacks.

    Except for the brass birdcages near the top and a few rusted measuring instruments, the entire structure was vibrant: The cupboards looked as smooth as balsa wood, and the animal skulls were pristine as chalk. According to Doely, though, the piece is far from finished. He said he envisions his final product in the form of an antique sepia photograph, with the tower slung across a costumed wanderer’s back. While it would seem that such a photo might disclude the intricate details, Doely test photos captured almost everything — down to tiny butterflies pressed onto glass plates. He’s certainly had plenty of practice: His portfolio is full of similar faux-antique photos. Still, seeing the structure live is the best way to fully appreciate all its elements — including one particular vial, half-full of Doely’s own baby teeth.

    Elle Mehrmand

    At the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions benefit in February — as part of second-year Elle Mehrmand’s performance piece “Technésexual” — she and UCSD graduate Micha Cárdenas tapped away at their laptops on stage. A video of the virtual space in which their avatars exist was projected onto a screen behind them.

    Minutes later, as Mehrmand reached down to Cárdenas’ naked crotch — groping and grinding in front of a crowd of over 100 — their avatars did the same.

    Their amplified heartbeats, whose pitches were modulated by the room’s temperature, were shared with three audiences: the artists, their live audience and all those on Second Life.

    Mehrmand said “Technésexual” explores how partners share their sexual experiences with each other and in multiple worlds, in reality and through technology. But her explanation doesn’t end there.

    “If you’re a cat making out with a cyborg woman, what’s your sexuality?” Cárdenas said, referring to their avatars. Last year, Cárdenas used Second Life in her performance piece “Becoming Dragon” to question binary constructions of gender.

    Mehrmand’s real-life relationship with Cárdenas, a transgender woman, is equally difficult to categorize, making video replays of “Technésexual” personal and intimate even after their clothes come back on.

    Vabianna Santos

    Following her themed collection of channeling the dead, first-year Vabianna Santos adopted a persona obsessed with puppets shaped like the heads of famous young rockers who committed suicide. The persona, she said, allows her to “channel them with my own fan-ness and my own sexuality.”

    However, she then revealed that “the plan is to make out with them.”

    Seeing as the Open Studios installations were works in progress, Santos wasn’t doing any lip-locking this past weekend — that’ll happen in a video slated for later this year. So far, the melon-sized puppets with Pac-Man mouths (think of a cross between a decapitated Bert and a sock puppet) sit actionless between unlit candles. In the background, a trio of dolls dutifully carried out a list of robotic instructions emanating from a nearby speaker in Vabianna’s sepulcher-like studio

    The red mouths of the heads — and the red bags on which the heads sat — were a striking contrast to the black-and-white photos of the rockers’ faces, hastily fastened to the puppets’ heads. Their mouths were agape, but whether the puppets were stuck in song or frozen in mid-scream — perhaps at the thought of an obsessive super-fan tongue-kissing their spirits — remains up for interpretation.

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