Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Deb Todd Wheeler

A friend aptly described Hyde Park artist Deb Todd Wheeler’s show “Live Experiments in Human Energy Exchange” at Green Street Gallery as a cross between Mad Max and Munchkin Land. A modified bicycle becomes the human-powered generator for a collection of Rube Goldberg contraptions: lights that illuminate ant farms behind silhouetted futuristic building designs (actually pavilions from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York); a paddle wheel fan that flutters a paper humming bird; an old speaker that pipes out woozy sounds from the fair; pulleys that make paper butterflies flap atop a wooden model of Biosphere 2, the failed attempt to replicate the earth’s ecosystems in Arizona greenhouses, surrounded by cartoony flowers that the artist and gallery visitors made of wire and recycled plastic bags.

Wheeler’s exhibit (the last at Green Street Gallery before it transforms into the new home for Cambridge’s Axiom Gallery on Jan. 12) also offers wire models of crazy failed 19th century flying machine designs and a hand-crank that powers a monitor showing the view from a surveillance camera focused on the bicycle.

“Live Experiments” is a smart, witty, generous riff on our addiction to fossil fuels, conservation, recycling and green energy in our Inconvenient Truth moment. It’s an inspiring joke about dropping off the grid. But it’s also sad – a graveyard of failed utopian dreams. The ant farms, in particular, seem a dark joke on the old saw that cockroaches will be the only critters to survive a nuclear holocaust -- or nowadays a pollution holocaust. Underneath Wheeler’s cheerful, whirligig stylings is a cloudy forecast for our future.

Deb Todd Wheeler at Green Street Gallery, 141 Green St., Boston, Oct. 31 to Dec. 14, 2006.


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