Raw Tactics of the Subversive Body is an impressive new anthology of videos in which the human body is portrayed and explored as weapon, symbol, object, subject or organism. While it is not always especially subversive, this collection of shorts by an international roster of artists, curated by Alberto Roblest and Pittsburgh's Andres Tapia-Urzua -- and premiering here on Sat., Sept. 8 -- is both broadly diverting and frequently provocative.
No one familiar with Tapias-Urzua's own video work will be surprised that several of the 20 shorts are explicitly political. Tapia-Urzua's "Mission A (Jet)" pointedly juxtaposes a man clad only in a suicide-bomber's girdle of explosives with footage of a fighter jet's fiery crash: Is one explosion as good (or bad) as another? Carolina Loyola-Garcia's contribution, here titled "Needs," is political by default: It was the lovely, meditative work removed, in June, from a Three Rivers Arts Festival venue because it depicted female nudity. SubRosa's "Vulva De/Re Constructa," meanwhile, bracingly deconstructs the sales language and Freudian imagery in the growing field of cosmetic labial surgery. Though hindered by sketchy production values, "Vulva" is as whip-smart as it is gleefully graphic. More successful aesthetically, and equally interesting, is Colette Copeland's "Worm Belly," a haunting take on the culture of thinness.
A few videos strain for effect. Andrew Johnson's "The Annunciation II" tells us nothing new about war, and tells it laboriously. Ian Wallace's "Absolution" -- mostly close-ups of taut rope -- might warm bondage enthusiasts, but hardly seems necessary. And "Sin Titulo Uno," by Luis Ramirez Guzman, feels like a Euro-trash art-film parody: Full of cigarettes, garters and eye makeup, it's lukewarm camp, at best.
Many of the videos that do work here provoke, or inspire, by suggestion. Which is not to say they are necessarily reserved: The excerpt from John Allen Gibel's "Pleromadromadhatu," for instance, appears to depict yoga-esque auto-fellatio, plus the anal expulsion of processed celluloid (all very attractively photographed). The distressed look of Brenda Moreno Torres' "Septicemia," meanwhile, is only part of what makes so disturbing its evocation of the terror of bodily decay. More playful is the compulsively watchable "She Dreamt," by Marco Casado, which combines stop-action animation of two people and their surroundings with vintage motion-study footage, all to surreal and humorous effect. And co-curator Roblest perhaps gets to the heart of things with the comically grotesque "Pressure by Oppression," in which he fully develops one simple idea: a man slowly pinching every possible wad of his naked flesh between plastic clothespins. We know it doesn't hurt (much); why do we shrink so from the altered human form?
Go see Raw Tactics of the Subversive Body, and wish it well: It's slated to tour nationally.
Raw Tactics of the Subversive Body 8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 8. $6 ($5 students). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. 412-682-4111