Lost in the "Woods"

As the ZZ Top song "Woke Up with Wood" goes, "Beauty queens fall in trances, debutantes lose their furs, but it felt so good from where they stood, they were working on a pile of wood." The Texas rockers would definitely nod their heads in hirsute approval of "Woods," the new multimedia exhibit at Negative Space Gallery. Turns out that recently, five different Houston artists all happened to be doing work that took the splintery substance as either material or theme.

Obviously, wood has always been important to us humans, providing simple shelter and warmth, not to mention pulp -- so necessary for, as Thomas Pynchon once wrote, "shit, money and the word." Hell, unless you're reading this on a computer screen, you're holding the remains of a tree right now.

According to Debbie Riddle of Negative Space, the new exhibit might appear to have a patina of whimsy (the bark, if you will), but strip that away and you'll find a rich tapestry of social and psychological commentary. Case in point: Teresa O'Connor's Loaded installation explores a Hollywood image of the old West, replete with beer bottles cut from plywood. "The overall effect is something like a parody of a high school production of a Western movie," says Riddle, "with the added feel of a Universal Studios tour." Witness also the wildly inventive work of sculptor Joe Ives, who here approaches wood as a way of solving life's romantic problems, presenting a moving object that transforms from a suitcase into two tables and a chair and, says Ives, "allowing one to always be prepared for that special meeting."

All of which is very different from the narrative paintings of woodland scenarios that make up Jason Villegas's contributions. There are no Bambi-esque frolics here: His severe images depict dismemberment, gay lumberjacks and vile lurking creatures, all meant to explore "sexual repression through deforestation and loss of limbs." Ouch.

As menacing as they are lush, these here "Woods" are well worth getting lost in.

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Scott Faingold