Mark Mothersbaugh at Parts Gallery (1150 Queen East), to October 2. www.partsgallery.ca. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
In an era saturated with bloated post-Zeppelin hair metal, Devo emerged as a troupe of decidedly nerdy art geeks. Self-proclaimed mutants from Ohio pogoing robotically in their red Aztec-pyramid helmets and paper suits to de-tuned choppy guitar, Devo injected the outsider art aesthetic into the mainstream.
Mark Mothersbaugh , the guiding musical and artistic visionary behind Devo, inspired genuine disgust and panic in Van Halen-loving rawkers. His musical style grew out of his peculiar artistic vision: a rich, caustic stew of anti-art, kitsch, outsider art and Dada that is now a common design vernacular. Since Devo wound down, he hasn't lost steam, generating a mountain of visual art and composing soundtracks, most notably Wes Anderson's films.
Mothersbaugh's current show of altered photographs is a variation on his long-standing theme of human devolution and mutation. He cuts vintage daguerreotypes and photographs down the middle, then rejoins mirror images, turning each subject into a human Rorschach blot, gleefully exploiting the bizarre symmetry, sometimes at the expense of body parts.
From the headless and multi-limbed "turkey baby" to the eerily beautiful "bride," Mothersbaugh's tampering recalls a Coney Island freak show view in its childlike awe and wonder.
Hidden, unexpected qualities appear in each subject: pugs are religiously solemn, mothers fold into nothingness while their infants levitate, a hula girl turns into a an ecstatic centaur in a grass skirt.
Simplification works if it makes the absence of what it omits all the more compelling. Mothersbaugh amplifies human anomalies by pointing out that we are, in his own words, "closer to potatoes" in our uneven mutant glory, and great pretenders to normalcy.