SHELAGH YOUNG AND DOUG BACK at Pentimento Gallery (1164 Queen East), to April 27. 416-406-6772. Rating: NNN
Copper is everywhere in Shelagh Young and Doug Back’s Domestic Science, a heady mashup incorporating collage, costume, interactive sound devices and dance performances on the subject of electricity. It’s not clear, though, whether they intend to alarm us about electrical spillage or celebrate electricity as a mysterious primal force.
Their inspiration is a short story by Ursula Pflug about pioneering inventor Nikola Tesla, whose extravagant claims about death rays and teleportation made him a model of the mad scientist. References to Gounod’s Faust suggest the search for scientific knowledge may be a bargain with the Devil.
Back has built various crude-looking copper contraptions that pick up electric spillage from the fixtures or our bodies and broadcast it as static.
His Faust book cover holds gizmos that control a tape of samurai fighting sounds collected from video games. Hanging from a copper coil next to the book, Young’s blackened glass rectangle evokes an ancient burned pictographic tablet or a circuit board charred by hellfire.
The three-dimensional pieces by Young, who’s worked in costume design, are her strongest. Her copper- and steel-mesh jackets and hats ornamented with coils shield the wearer from electricity, and her small copper bags can be hooked up to run a transistor radio. Attached to rocks, shells and melted pieces of glass, the little objects resemble sea creatures washed up on the shore.
Her framed collages with bits of copper, melted glassware, birch bark and other media are more uneven, many seeming a bit thrown together.
The jacket and gizmos are further animated in dance performances (see Art Listings for details) by Kate Story, Bill James and Ryan Kerr, to a soundtrack that includes an aria from Faust.