By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The adjacent wall, the big one, is plastered top-to-bottom with a vinyl-print photo of Good/Bad's members. Twenty-one melancholy people, dressed in snuggly Aspen attire, gaze out from a wood-paneled "lobby" equipped with wet bar and mounted deer heads. No smiles in this ultra-posed portrait, but each of them sports a plaster cast on his or her right leg. Crutches and canes lean against chairs and laps. And in front of this grainy image, propped against the Annex wall, are the splintered pieces of a single giant snow ski--long remnants that together hold 21 right-boot bindings. "Apres Ski," the piece is titled. One can't help but picture a snowy downhill slope littered with 21 moaning, cursing vacationers. One takes a dive, everyone follows. Kinda like the risk the collective faces with every show.
Across the tiny space is another self-referencing piece (Iles likes to call Good/Bad works "efforts" or "attempts." "It refers to our ambitions versus our limited resources. We never know if we're gonna pull something off," he says.) This "effort," simply titled "Jukebox," is indeed a standard CD-playing, make-a-selection jukebox. In it: 23 CDs with their covers, each one recorded and designed by a collective member. No rules. The results are intentionally spotty and frustrating, often forcing a visitor to endure a smugly obtuse selection far past the point of novelty. Dan Baily's CD plays the actual noise of the subway trip from Brooklyn into Manhattan. Michael Eudy's piece features the artist singing above the roar of a vacuum cleaner. Heather Grace's CD--the cover art is a picture of the artist wearing an S&M ball-gag next to the old Whitesnake symbol--has her singing a karaoke version of the pop-metal band's severely dated hit "Here I Go Again," the gag muffling her flat voice and making her sound either retarded or demented. Erick Swenson's CD art is actually the cover of Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, only Swenson has cleverly blotted out the "s" in the word "Hits." Swenson has quietly layered all of this beloved album's songs into one track, forming a single, swelling, creepy "tune" that bleeds with tiny snatches of the familiar songs. It sounds almost like back-masking. "The Boxer" here, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" there, an echo of "Mrs. Robinson" that lilts in and out--symphonic, droning, plinking. The irony works. Swenson has made the ever-approachable duo sound insidiously evil.
And rounding out the quad on the remaining wall is "Titanic." Big block letters spell out the ship's name across the pristine white wall, and beneath the word, at eye level, a tiny Sony Watchman is mounted, its bitty 3-inch screen dancing with images. This, in turn, is attached to a VCR mounted near the floor. Now playing: a pirated version of the blockbuster film, bought for 10 bucks from a New York black-marketer, a guy who sneaks into a theater with a tripod and video camera and tapes the movie for illegal sale.
"NBC will air Titanic in the year 2000--they've already bought the rights," Iles says. "The film is so diminished when you take away its size, put it on a small screen, cut it with commercials. It's actually a terrible movie." Good/Bad has re-edited the film with TV ads interspliced throughout. Dramatic moments are interrupted with a fade out, then a chirpy "Hi! I'm Professor Pork Chop!" Suddenly James Cameron's Hollywood monument seems far less, well, monumental.
Together, the four "attempts" fill the room with the usual Good/Bad critical thinking, humor, and insider barbs. But the sense that the collective knew the stakes were higher this time, that it had to pull this off, hangs in the Annex air. The pieces are perfectly constructed, fully formed. Accessible but not ingratiating. The mood is "Hey. We're here, we're getting really good at this. Pay attention."
And they're right. Attempt becomes success.
Welcome to Important Town runs through March 28 at The Annex: The Conduit Gallery, 3200 Main St., Ste. 2.5. (214) 939-0064.