DoV-ine Inspiration

Harvey Bott has a system. And Kelly Klaasmeyer has a travelogue.

I'm not saying that Klaasmeyer is an imperialist pig -- far from it. Her humor is as much self-deprecating as it is wicked. But the artist's "tales from the 'Evil Empire' " are the tales of a hapless tourist, not someone with the insight of a de Tocqueville. The artist shows us the pakets, shopping bags that feature images of old TV stars, scantily clad biker chicks, 18-wheelers and American flags, but she doesn't attempt to explain how or why they came to exist, or how it happens that they attract shoppers of both sexes, or even why the babushkas don't just sell plain white bags. Perhaps insight along those lines is too tall an order for someone who doesn't speak Russian.

Yet language skills aren't totally necessary, as Klassmeyer's 15-minute video Sunday Afternoon at the Sleet-Mart shows. By virtue of the video's running subtitles we learn that Klaasmeyer (with camera wielded by a grumbling David) is attempting to sell off her unwanted possessions at an ad hoc outdoor market. The mostly older female shoppers -- some returning more than once -- inspect her wares, carefully examining a half-empty bottle of baby lotion or a tattered jacket before agreeing to or rejecting her ridiculously low prices, which eventually turn into giveaways. Though the subtitle narration is sometimes a tad heavy-handed, this video suddenly makes Klaasmeyer's situation successfully work as a cautionary metaphor for some larger ecocultural situation, and it does it by showing rather than telling. Here's a cold, frustrated American trying to divest herself of unwanted possessions like plastic flip-flops, magazines and various Russian purchases that turned out to be mistakes. The chances that she'll have something that her skeptical customers need or want to spend their limited cash on, though, turn out to be fairly slim.

As far as travelogues go, I'll bank on Klaasmeyer's. She's the kind of American who doesn't seem likely to act boorish in restaurants or talk loudly to people who don't speak English. She's sparkly and funny and knows that art shouldn't be a bore. But I want something more from her than just a Xerox of the "actual United States Immigration Regulations" on the wall, videotapes of Russian infomercials and a cute postcard about her latest adventures. In fact, I think Klaasmeyer takes refuge in her humor, when she could be delving deeper. As a caricature of a Russian, a character like "The evil Andrei" confirms our old ideas about Russia, rather than challenging our notions of the new.

"Toyzenus" is on display at New Gallery, 2639 Colquitt, 520-7053, through January 4. "Tales and Artifacts from the 'Evil Empire' " is on view at Lawndale Art and Performance Center, 4912 Main Street, 528-5858, through January 25.

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