Nature is absurd

Water, dams and the drought flow through new university exhibit

On location at Lake Oroville with title characters from Chris Sollars’ video piece “Tree & Turf.”

On location at Lake Oroville with title characters from Chris Sollars’ video piece “Tree & Turf.”

DAAAM, works by Chris Sollars, now showing at Jacki Headley University Art Gallery through Dec. 16.
Jacki Headley University Art Gallery
Chico State

Bay Area artist Chris Sollars brings imagination and humor into play across his multimedia exhibit, DAAAM, currently on display at Chico State’s Jacki Headley University Art Gallery.

For instance, Sollars creates sculptures by combining found objects, such as a rusted jerry-can topped by a weathered piece of Lake Oroville driftwood for “Pour.” For another piece, “Fake Lake,” he cut a map-like shape of Lake Oroville from a piece of plywood set into the top of an old wheelbarrow filled with water from that lake.

With only seven pieces installed—one of which, “Sun Block,” is not in the gallery proper but located in the Arts & Humanities Building’s second-floor lounge—the display may at first appear rather sparse and haphazardly arranged, especially since the numerical guide to the exhibit doesn’t list the pieces in sequential order of placement. But the seeming randomness of the layout is perhaps a reflection of Sollars’ stated intention of achieving a “reclamation of public spaces … [by] juxtaposing dissimilar elements, objects and materials [in order to] explore absurdist opportunities in the public realm to generate unexpected outcomes.” The piece “Wet Blanket,” which is a fleece blanket printed with an image of dried, cracked lake-bed mud, dropped in a crumpled state in the middle of the gallery floor, successfully looking absurd and unexpected.

Near the back wall of the gallery, “Water Cooler” consists of two large water cooler bottles stacked neck-to-neck in hourglass fashion atop a white plastic utility bucket, with the bottom bottle filled with “sand from Lake Oroville,” making, perhaps, a comment on the drought conditions that exposed the sand as our local water supply runs lower and lower.

At seemingly random moments, a voice begins issuing from a small set of speakers in the gallery’s back corner. “Dam. Dam. Daaam. Daam. …” the word repeats at various lengths and levels of emotional expression. This is the auditory portion of the exhibit’s title piece, “DAAAM,” which includes a video slideshow displaying dozens of photographs of dams and their environs, ranging from aerial views to ground-level closeups. The photos are projected on a plywood and fiberglass resin screen that gives the pictures a sort of rippled texture, as if being viewed on a watery surface.

The largest and most complex piece in the exhibit is “Tree & Turf.” At first glance, the artificial, 5-foot-tall pine tree, standing over a similarly sized patch of artificial turf, just seems like a bit of fake nature mixed in with the accumulated found-object sculptures. But then one begins to watch the video being projected on a large screen from a projector hidden at the foot of the tree and the realization dawns that the “tree” and the “turf” are costumes worn by two actors staging various scenarios in public places, such as the corner of Tarn Circle and Royal Oaks Drive in Oroville, or the drought-exposed lake bed and marina of Lake Oroville.

Over the course of the 18-minute film, the two characters repeatedly walk up to or into different settings and then pose, blending more or less realistically into the scene depending on how incongruous the costumes are to that particular area. The aesthetic and emotional outcome of each tableau varies from silly to deeply poignant as the characters seemingly search for comfort and a place to “fit in”—from the striated depths of the lake bed to a green and woodsy hillside and artificially luxuriant irrigated lawn—giving some genuine meaning to Sollars’ intention of creating “absurdist opportunities in the public realm to generate unexpected outcomes.”