It's sometimes easy to forget how much the A1 Lab Arts collective really gets done. Producing, not consigning, enough material for a new show every month, each with a new theme, no less, is about as easy as it sounds, and November's show last Friday at 8 Shooters Studio seemed especially full and heartening.
It could have been the change of venue. The modestly sized photography studio on Central may be none of the things that makes A1's warehouse space on Randolph Street so great (enormous and often a bit of a maze), but it does offer adequate lighting throughout. While seeing an A1 exhibition in circumstances that suggest they can't afford to keep the lights on may be endearing, it's a treat to be able to dive right into the show without first letting your eyes adjust. Then again, this abundance of kilowatts meant the one video piece—yes, just the one this month—in the space wasn't as visible as it could have been, so maybe there's just no pleasing me. Couple the cozy atmosphere with the emphasis on sculpture (you save a lot of floor space when half your works are on disc) and you come up with one packed little show.
It was also a fun one. With a name like At the Altar, how could it not be a riot, right? But there was no shortage of wordplay ("Altar to the Contemplation of Eggsistence," a sculpture of a large spotted egg in a nest; "Altar to Subtraction," a framed pencil drawing of a disembodied hand in the process of being similarly detached from its digits), and then there was the hard-luck charm built into the quirky capitalization of "The Physical Impossibility of further Intoxication After getting Pickpocketed On Bourbon Street," also suggesting existing intoxication may be, or may have been, maintained.
The splashiest work of the night was the performance piece "The Full Vagina," a send-up of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues complete with hot pink costumes, in which five women of various ages danced in and around a large fabric-covered sculpture of a vagina while a sixth read from a piece of paper a story of Woman, poorly treated by Man, finding a way to create a lost sense of self-worth. Among a few other shots, the (really funny, by the way) refrain of "We are full vagina lips" asserts that shouting from a stage a few naughty words reducing women's identities down to their genitalia not only fails to put power back in women's hands, but in fact continues to work in men's terms—pornography on a pedestal, absent of female pleasure. The performance ultimately evoked something of the strange dynamic of worship in BDSM.
But they can't all be experimental non-profit organizations with NFS signs hanging about. Some of us do have to make a living, and that includes Daniel Maw, now showing at Unarmed Merchants. Having recently graduated from the University of Tennessee's MFA program in printmaking, Maw has been working on two new projects this summer, one of which is the beginning of what is potentially a very long undertaking.
Setting the future scope for the comic "Red's Barbershop" is a foam core board displaying a cast of characters that includes Maw's grandfather (Grandpa "Red" Maw), father, older brother, and, finally, the artist himself. Maw has frequently dealt with the human condition in his comics, but this is his first explicit work in autobiography, and is also a rarity for its use of a character's, rather than an omniscient, narration. Along with another, less personal, collaborative book, you can check out all of Maw's new work in person, plus buy the old favorites, including T-shirts, comic books, the papercraft car, and, of course, the donkey on wheels.