Boom Bomb Crash
Casey Cook
Branch Gallery
Through Dec. 20

There is a concept that sprung to mind upon seeing this show of Casey Cook’s recent work. Specifically, Cook’s work embraces change in action. In keeping with this moving target theme, the show shakes things up constantly; it’s as much metastasizing multimedia theater as it is gallery show.

Cook’s scope and methodology are both broad and adventurous, and they compellingly retain an air of haziness and uncertainty. Throughout the exhibition she employs a multimedia collage aesthetic as a framing device for an ongoing dialogue she transposes across the various artworks on display. Painting, sculpture, video and art books are all utilized to cleverly express and juxtapose certain historical associations while maintaining a mysterious underlying narrative that never fully explains itself.

It is this repetitive ambiguity that in fact gives the show its visual oomph.

There are a few elements that consistently appear: Graffiti lettering, women’s high heels, balloons, dancing figures and body fragments are all prominent. Doll faces and assorted chained-together shapes frequently appear as well. Smaller canvases such as “Are You For Real” and “Body Body” are figure/ ground works with bold graffiti lettering on a flat color background. The graffiti is so prominent that the text (which spells out the name of the work) has swollen to become the entire image. In contrast, the gallery’s entry walls feature a pair of large paintings that read more like hieroglyphs, with a multitude of swirling figures and outlines flowing throughout the canvases.

A conspicuous, suspended necklace-like sculptureappropriately entitled “Hang it Around Your Neck”hovers above the gallery’s main space, presenting high-heel shoe forms among other shapes that have been textured and papier-mâchéd into an entirely different reality. Their surface is transformed into a tar-like veneer belying the original objects’ covering and materiality while transforming them into singular beads on the larger than life strand.

There is also a major video work entitled “Circle Triangle Army” that features the artist in an elaborate gown pantomiming drum-playing motions while being encircled by seven silver-spandex-clad women acting as the performer’s drums. This startling imagery is made all the more confounding by its pulsing soundtrack: Michael Jackson’s song “Billie Jean,” interspersed with cutting guitar and drum rhythm samples that audibly reinforce the work’s percussive sensibilities. Shot on the stone steps of UNC’s outdoor Forest Theater, the effect can only be described as one of Matthew Barney-esque high drama and intrigue. Or, to cite another surrealistic filmmaker, it’s as if you have stumbled upon a David Lynch film scene in mid-shoot. Such weirdness fits in here though, and in the greater scheme of things the video becomes another peculiar looped version of Cook’s transformative narrative.

The most vital element in this show is the layered dynamism that Cook maintains in her dialogue as it threads its way through and evolves over the two and three-dimensional work, expanding even into the fourth dimensiontimein her performance video piece. It is to her great credit (and her curators’ installation sensibilities) that she manages to keep all these varying mediums cooperating stylistically. These skills hold the show in check, keeping its far-reaching aesthetic ambitions together in a coherent whole.