Strange worlds at DFAC 

Dunedin Fine Art Center’s Interstellar enters new orbits.

Tsuneaki Hiramatsu never imagined that his photographs of fireflies abuzz across the landscape of Japan’s Okayama prefecture would be seen around the world. But that’s exactly what happened when the telephone customer service rep’s photos went viral on the Internet last December.

The time-lapse images — dusky blue landscapes invaded by swarms of yellow-green dots and streaks that suggest the handiwork of a toddler wielding a fluorescent marker — caught the attention of several influential photo blogs, which shared the pics. When Hiramatsu’s own page views skyrocketed, he knew something was up, he told Wired in February. Sometime later, the American Museum of Natural History in New York asked the amateur photographer if they could use the images to promote their exhibition on bioluminescence in nature.

Everybody loves the strangeness of our own world and the even stranger possibility of still-odder other worlds out there. That’s the premise behind Intergalactic, an entertaining and at times intriguing exhibit at the Dunedin Fine Art Center that merges art and craft as well as science and fantasy in painting, jewelry, photography, sculpture and installation by 17 artists. A pair of Hiramatsu’s web meme photos are included, along with objects as diverse as CAD-designed steel jewelry by David Choi and oil paintings of existentially adrift astronauts (inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) by Scott Listfeld.

Though parts of the exhibit get mired in space kitsch, the implication that the work included in Intergalactic is out of this world is not entirely grandiose.

The jewelry in particular is pretty magnificent. Rather than your run-of-the-mill baubles, this is high-concept stuff rendered as miniature sculptures out of intriguing materials. Much of it comes on loan from Charon Kransen Arts, a New York gallery that specializes in jewelry that doesn’t look like jewelry you’ve seen before. German artist Isabell Schaaup’s work, for example, possesses an unusual narrative quality, incorporating black wire-and-bead figures into pieces like an oversized necklace crafted from copper, silver and enameled plaques. The figure hangs suspended from the necklace like a pendant; the piece’s title, “30 Days,” hints at a physical or psychological trial.

Other pieces like a white brooch erupting with strands of red beads titled “Volcano” contribute to an implied story of exploration and survival, possibly post-apocalyptic.

Then there are Masumi Kataoka’s delicate pieces, which resemble exquisite samples of tissue or skin cultivated in a laboratory petri dish then shaped into sculptural brooches. Four pink, finger-like tubes extend from one piece; another takes the shape of a coiling intestinal tube that might look like an extra orifice winding out from its wearer’s body. Each piece imparts a sense of soft, comforting flesh but also a whiff of gruesome anatomy.

The painting in this show is fine, too. Pittsburghian Andy Kehoe all but steals the exhibit with just one picture, a slick oil-on-wood panel titled “Bring Forth the Tides of Night.” In the image, a hoofed creature sits atop a craggy rock formation surrounded by trees with golden and burnt orange leaves. Through his single orange-and-blue eye, the creature channels a cosmic otherworld, which emanates from his head and erupts as a starry gash in the golden sky above. This is the stuff of timeless myths, and I would only like to have seen more.

Pinellas-based artist Denis Gaston doesn’t get enough time in the spotlight by my estimation. Maybe it’s because his work blends the flavor of visionary art with the skills of a formally trained and professionally experienced graphic designer, making him a multifold outsider by conservative definitions of art. His cryptic quadratych (four panels, two front and two back) on a found window was one of my favorite pieces in the show. The profile of a bulbous-headed bald man adorns each panel, alternately depicted as different selves: a rational, if predictable, being encircled by thought bubbles containing identical cubes; a more macabre character who seems made of raw flesh and bones; and a featureless silhouette covered with almond-shaped blue eyes that gaze piercingly at a viewer.

Portland painter Rene Rickabaugh makes a familiar subject — the floral still life — alien by layering resin and watercolor on translucent rice paper. The dreamy, encaustic-like effect lets you peer into his abstracted plants and flowers and see a luminous structure within.

It’s not a surprise to see St. Pete’s CyberCraft Robots make an appearance here in the form of extraterrestrial ray guns and other space-themed sculptures assembled from metal odds and ends, though these works seem more literal and hard-core in their geekery than most of the show. An installation by Leah Pecoraro, a past participant in DFAC’s Wearable Art, also represents the campier end of the Intergalactic spectrum. It pairs a life-sized vignette of a cover for an imaginary pulp sci-fi novel called Brain Suck with a biography and portrait of its fictional author, Angus Fluptub. The brain-sucking alien reaches out its tentacles to a mannequin dressed like a futuristic Valkyrie — a fun piece, but light years apart from the subtle potency of the show’s other supernatural visions.

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