Exhibition Review Excerpt: Julia Randall at Davison Art Center

Oral Fixations is intended to be a reference to the Freudian stage of development when children are said to be focused entirely on the use of their mouth and interacting with the world relating to the mouth, and deriving pleasures from the mouth (Davison). Randall’s extensive exploration of bubble gum in Blown certainly complements the concept of childhood thematically. Each piece is named for the color or flavor of the gum in question, and the bubbles are drawn at various sizes and states of inflation or deflation. Moving into the works from Pinned and Pulled, where the gum bubbles are stretched, punctured, or popped by tacks and dental instruments creates a sense of dread and terror in the viewer, as the fragile and perfect form of the bubble is collapsed by outside forces. Again, references to and evocations of childhood can be found in this feeling of “bursting the bubble”: fears of dental instruments and shattered illusions alike fill the childhood memories of many.
In other series on exhibit here, Randall’s work moves beyond the everyday into fantastical creations, such as Lovebird #4, a chicken-like bird figure with a human mouth where its head should be, and a pull-cord protruding from its chest. There is a strange mix of fascination and revulsion to these images. In general, the work on display here is captivating for its deep immersion into a subject both ordinary and universal: we all have mouths, but they are not given much thought in day-to-day life, despite all they do. The encounter with an intimate aspect of the human body creates an underlying level of discomfort, perhaps fueled by the visceral or potentially sexual nature of the work. Some of the works invite imaginations of the perspectives and intentions behind the disembodied mouths; at least some of them seem prepared for a sexual encounter, such as Lick Line #20. In contrast, Pulled Orange Crush evokes the internal organs—both in terms of texture and fragility.
One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is the curatorial decisions that have been made. The works are arranged by series, but the series are not in chronological order. Rather they proceed in a logical flow of subject matter. Upon entering the gallery, the images from Lick Line are immediately to one’s right followed, in a clockwise fashion, by Lure, Blown, Pinned and Pulled, Under and Afloat, and Lovebirds. Thus we proceed from stand-alone mouths to bubbles to mouths in motion to popped bubbles to reflective saliva bubbles in mouths with other elements, to fanciful creatures featuring human mouths. It is worth noting that this order moves the viewer through the works from the familiar to the altogether strange, putting a logical flow and feel to the viewing as the level of confusion and revulsion increases very gradually. Viewed in a counterclockwise order, the effect would be reversed. This is a very interesting and useful choice which serves to make the exhibition as a whole more accessible.

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