A death-centric mindset drew friends Kara Tanaka and Marco Rios into collaboration for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The resulting exhibit Death's Boutique gave rise to a broader evaluation of alternative burial techniques and premeditated ends. The duo traveled to Sweden in exploration of an environmentally friendly method of human decomposition and continued on to Lithuania to fathom its impetuous standing for highest suicide rate.
Rios' witty wordplay and gruesome humor morphed the somber and impersonal first impression of the exhibit. For the postmortem process, fanciful and slightly over-sized poly-jet resin instruments, such as his "Affectionate Cranial Scoop," were reminiscent of ancient Egyptian embalming tools. But I'm sure not too many Egyptians would have employed Rios' "Heart Extractor" since that particular organ was an afterlife essential. Yet, the artist's use of a 3D printer for sculptural execution seemed quite impersonal. I want to take my time to inspect and feel the physical effort and emotional intensity in a work. An image manipulated through CAD and printed in successive layers is less enticing. Once I get the joke, I'm gone.
Tanaka focused on the environmental benefit of freeze-dried remains through her adeptly named series "Social Leveler (When Immortality Became Uncouth)." Twelve identical pink sugar sculptures clustered in the middle left of the gallery and reached from three to eight inches in height as they sat atop individual pedestals. From the left wall protruded a much larger "Social Leveler (LeMoyne Deluxe)" to set the scene. One could almost imagine the body being submerged in liquid nitrogen within this metal coffin-esqe container and coming out as the pink powdery remains Tanaka so skillfully recreated. Was that too much? I promise it looks a lot milder than it sounds.
The shady grass outside Yerba Buena seduced significantly more people on the warm Saturday afternoon. The inside of the second floor gallery space holding Death's Boutique was sparse at best. A young couple meandered into the small gallery, glazed over the show's entirety without comment, chose a few pieces to hone in on and leisurely walked out within a matter of minutes. I didn't blame them. I would have rather read an essay on the artists' findings since their work didn't quite reflect a bulk of the exhibit's premise.
Death's Boutique is on view through April 25, 2010 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. For tickets and information, visit ybca.org.