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Water Overdose

FotoFest 2004 will soak you to the bone

The "Water in the West" exhibition at Williams Tower Gallery has a decent share of interesting work, and it's worth fighting the Galleria traffic to view it. Laurie Brown's lush color panoramas contrast the deep green of golf courses and deep blue of man-made lakes with the brown desert surrounding them. And Robert Dawson is displaying a choice juxtaposition of photographs. His black-and-white image of Disneyland shows glittering rides reflected back in an artificial lake. Hung next to it is an image of a polluted river that runs between the California and Mexico border. Big fluffy white globs of foam float on its surface; it looks like somebody dumped in some Mr. Bubble. Together, they are an ominous pair of images.

Also in the "Water in the West" show, Sant Khalsa's piece, Western Waters, documents the plethora of predominantly mom-and-pop "water stores" with dingy strip-mall facades and names like "Oasis Water Store" and "Paradise Water." The series focuses on the "necessity and absurdity of water stores." Khalsa takes her project one step further with Watershed, in which she creates a water product. It's here that Khalsa's California-ness manifests itself. She's labeled stacks of bottles and boxes with attributes that she believes are found in nature and wanted by humans. They are "creativity, inspiration, change, balance, integrity, harmony and grace." Now don't get me wrong, those are all great things, but the list strikes me as more than a tad New Age-y. Khalsa isn't exactly in touch with the rest of America. If you really want a hypothetical product that gives Americans what they desire, it seems like infinite wealth and washboard abs ought to make the list. I don't know how many people sit around saying, "Gee, I wish I had more 'grace.'"

The FotoFest 2004 catalog contains a few images from all the venues. Unless you're on a pilgrimage or have an inordinate amount of free time, you're going to want to pick and choose which shows to see. The catalog's water-themed artist statements are entertaining, too. While some of them are interesting, others are bad attempts at emphasizing the water-themed aspects of artists' works. Here's a choice example: "My thoughts on water tumble onto paper like rain on my pond, as difficult to rein in as it would be to confine a thunderstorm." Sheesh.

Edward Burtynsky's Shipbreaking #4 is part of 
his stark, spectacular series at Reliant Energy Plaza.
Edward Burtynsky's Shipbreaking #4 is part of his stark, spectacular series at Reliant Energy Plaza.

Details

on view through April 12; for information, call 713-223-5522 or visit www .fotofest.org.

There's a non-photographic sculptural installation at the Sunset Coffee Building down at Allen's Landing. At FotoFest 2002, when I approached the Allen's Landing installation, the sewer stench hit me so hard that it was difficult to quell my gag reflex. I steeled myself for a similar experience this time, but the bayou's cesspool odor is gone! I think it was magically cleansed for the Super Bowl.

Inside the building is Malachi Farrell's installation, Fish Flag Mourant. The floor is strewn with a bunch of aquatic debris -- squashed milk jugs spray-painted orange and used as floats, an old tire, Mardi Gras beads and a Sbarro cup. In the middle of the crap is a shallow pool of grungy water. Segmented metal fish shapes are painted with various national flags, lie in the water and on the floor and even dangle from the ceiling. All of a sudden they come to life, flapping pitifully to an audio track that sounds like dolphins being tortured. It is amazing, the empathy you can feel for a bunch of fake fish in mechanized death throes.

At the opening of FotoFest 2004, there were boat tours of Buffalo Bayou. Amazing. I didn't have time to take the trip, but I asked the guys running it, Capt'n Pip (a Great Expectations escapee?) and Jim Richards, to describe what it was like. They pointed west and said if you go that way, it's pretty well landscaped. They pointed the other direction and said that as you head towards the McKee Street bridge, it gets more overgrown and natural -- sort of. The catch is that when there's a flood (flood? Houston?), all the trash washes down Buffalo Bayou. When the water recedes, the trees are decorated with plastic bags from Kroger and Fiesta. Wow, there's a photograph -- it sounded oddly pretty, just like Houston.

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