MAINLY ON THE PLAINS

This state's prairie lands appear remote--spare, spacy, even boring. But Last Chance to Cope--photographs of Colorado's northeastern plains on which sit the actual towns of Last Chance and Cope--finds a lot to look at out where most of us see nothing. This exhibit, now on display at Emmanuel Gallery, is joined by three sculptural installations, collectively called Parallel Lines, that echo some of the forms and flavor of the Great Plains: farm buildings, orderly rows of plowed furrows and wild miles of waving grains.

Upstairs at the gallery, the lonely tableland east of Aurora is the main character in a windswept narrative co-starring silos, tractors and John Wayne. In Last Chance to Cope, Marscha Winterfield and David DeHarport take an offbeat approach to scenic photography; their black-and-white images of this underappreciated part of the state sparkle with irony and deadpan humor.

Surroundings as flat and featureless as the plains can give almost any object found on them the stature of monumental sculpture, and Winterfield deftly turns this quality into unforgettable images. "But Will It Fly" is a dilapidated house poised on a trailer, about to be removed from its original foundation. While the shot acknowledges the nomadic history and dwindling population of the prairie, the derelict house also looks very much like a giant bumblebee about to take off. The ramshackle building pictured in her "All Welcome" used to be a church. The sign remains, bidding all worshippers welcome, but necessity has converted the place into a garage; two parked cars are the only faithful parishioners here. And "Edge of the Prairie" shows the march of civilization, exemplified by rows of identical suburban homes, from the viewpoint of the helpless prairie.

DeHarport's contributions tend toward more political content, their humor more hard-hitting. "Make Bush Eat Broccoli" captures an abandoned-looking railroad loading station with a grain silo and an ominous sign that reads, "Danger: not sufficient clearance." "Cemetery Near Vernon" focuses on a truly desolate spot to be buried, the view marred by a big, handpainted sign warning visitors not to decorate these stark gravesites and never to drink the water. Both photos characterize a tough way of life with little time for levity. DeHarport's "John Wayne," which shows a pathetic small-town playground bizarrely decorated with a huge, clumsy mural of John Wayne's face, is apparently as frivolous as it gets out there.

In the main gallery, large-scale installations make good use of Emmanuel's own wide-open spaces. Visitors must pass through Gail Wagner's "Glade," a curtain of twisted cornhusks hanging from the ceiling. Each "stalk" is obsessively worked, as though the artist had tried to build a cornfield without ever seeing one.

Virginia Folkstad's "The Noiseless Foot of Time" is the latest in a series of sculptures based on a tall "house" made of corrugated metal. In this version, the sheet metal is literally shredded open, revealing an interior papered with torn, old-fashioned wallpaper mixed with vintage news and magazine clippings. Six brand-new teapots on wire trivets decorate the interior floor. Piled around the outside are many identical handmade wooden things--Firewood? Flames? Old machine parts? Clothespins? Though intriguing, Folkstad's intent is perhaps too personal to come across well, and clarity is further muffled by the excess of elements.

The final--and least overtly organic--installation is Tim Hennigan's "2 1/4," a crowd of male and female dress forms whose headless, armless torsos are set out like chess pieces on a geometric grid. The work aims to make a statement about the difficulties of communication in a conformist society, but within the context of this show, even Hennigan's sleek modern shapes seem to sprout from the floor like some strange harvest.

Last Chance to Cope and Parallel Lines, through September 22 at Emmanuel Gallery, Auraria Campus, 10th and Lawrence streets, 556-8337.

 
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