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Kyle Ethan Fischer's exhibit mixed powerfully evokes Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. 

mixed, an exhibition of works by Kyle Ethan Fischer at moxie DaDA gallery, reacts to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, and the botched recovery efforts that compounded that devastation. It's an immensely powerful collection, well executed and intellectually involving. The show's impact is visceral, and will stain the viewer's memory like water damage.

Mixed refers not only to the images represented, but to the media in which they are rendered. The media ranges from traditional materials like ink, gouache and gold leaf all the way to smoke, buttons, eggshells and animal-hide glue.

The works by this Pittsburgh-based artist include sculptures, assemblages and framed wall pieces. The sculptural works are the least numerous, but stand among the show's most reverberating works. "When Will He Come Home From The War?" is a shredded torso of tattered flesh suspended in a doorway, browned and burned, fashioned from lace, blood, bone. The remnants of a man hang above the viewer's head, philosophically heavy but seemingly fragile enough to crumble into dust beneath the faintest touch, or dissolve from a whispery breath. Reaching toward us from the opposite direction, meanwhile, is a troika of bodies -- "Water Rising," "Grandfather" and "Child" -- gasping through the surface of the floor, frantic for safe purchase. Though the figures are static, their submersion seems imminent.

The couple dozen pieces flat against the walls resonate with echoed images which skillfully evoke fear, desperation, pain and confusion. These are portraits of what happens when unforeseen disaster, born of nature, merges horrifically into a catastrophe resulting from the inattention of man. Double-helix strands of DNA creep heavenward to become writhing serpents and cocked guns; angels and devils challenge soldiers and icons. A few works explode in heartbreaking text that spirals inward upon itself: "God bless us ... we need water and food ... we have a sick baby."

While the words are straightforward, some of the imagery is more obscure. Spanish galleons float toward rifles; leaves and tanks scatter; dinosaurs share space with reptiles both historical and imaginary; and deer charge as ravens wait in multi-layered strata of charcoal and gilt. Human figures show up to crouch, fall through the air, and take aim. Color is limited primarily to the crimson of blood or flame, occasional bursts of metal, and every shade of gray.

While the events Fischer depicts are ugly, his visuals are graceful and entrancing, all the better to draw us in. They're deceptively simple, with the images often set onto surfaces by transfer, and shades of color washed across the surface, with burn marks allowing what rests beneath to peek through. The effect is rich with complexity, as they invoke the incomprehensible horror of what never should have happened.

Viewing it, as we have, from the outside, we can never fully understand the onslaught of Katrina and the negligence in her aftermath. We can only gape in horror, attempt to sympathize, and eventually push it to the back of our memories. Fischer's work serves as a reminder of the hideous, glimpsed through a lens of beauty.

mixed continues through Oct. 27. A talk by the artist is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sat., Oct. 20. moxie DaDA, 1416 Arch St., North Side. 412-682-0348

click to enlarge Blown away: "What It Takes to Change," by Kyle Ethan Fischer.
  • Blown away: "What It Takes to Change," by Kyle Ethan Fischer.

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