ART/SNEAK PEEK : INNOCENT PHOTOS, GUILTY TEXT AT CSUN SHOW.
To the naked eye, the little girl certainly looks happy.
We see her in typical childhood poses, mostly smiling, during play time or bath time or maybe on her birthday. The old, faded Polaroids are arrayed in clear plastic frames, swathed in thin white fabric and layered like the tiers of a wedding cake.
Juxtaposed on a low column, a couple of feet away, rests a black spiral logbook with photocopies of pathology reports from the eye tissue of 14 deceased children. Most are from the Los Angeles Police Department and the county coroner's office. Names have been blacked out with heavy marker, leaving only such coolly harrowing remarks as: ``There is extensive hemorrhage in the nerve fiber layer and also in the bipolar cell layer. ... Child allegedly thrown against wall (five times), head first. ...''
Artist Christina Fernandez, 32, the now-grown-up girl in those innocent snapshots, can't help wondering what she was feeling at the precise moment they were taken.
And pondering Fernandez's just-opened installation, ``The Body Is an Analog'' (1997), at California State University Northridge's Art Dome, we wonder, too. Can we believe the hard, clinical evidence before our eyes? Or, like the camera that took the photos, are our eyes merely an unthinking apparatus that registers fleeting impressions, which may have no basis in reality? Which is to be trusted: the reassuring photos or the grim textual evidence of the reports?
``I think what's most difficult about looking at these photographs, for me, is looking at these pristine, formal portraits of me that show such a sweet, quiet child that has developed into this very vocal, not always sweet woman - the way we're made to conform to these images,'' says the L.A.-born and -bred artist.
Rather than a window into her own childhood, Fernandez says the installation is intended as a metaphorical exploration of different kinds of perception.
So was her childhood indeed as happy as it looks?
``I don't have a very good memory of that time,'' Fernandez replies matter-of-factly. ``It may have been.''
In this age of air-brushed fashion spreads, computerized image-doctoring and Oliver Stone movies, few people are naive enough to swear that seeing is believing. Yet sight remains the primary means by which most humans construct the world around them.
Oddly, though, our perceptions may have become less, not more, reliable as amazing new visual technologies burst into existence. Software designers and MTV directors insist we're becoming a ``visual,'' ``post-literate'' society. But what if our eyes get tricked?
Fernandez explores those and other discrepancies in ``The Body Is an Analog'' and a second installation, ``Bend.'' Both are part of a two-woman CSUN show pairing Fernandez with Patssi Valdez, an L.A.-based painter, installation artist and stage- and movie-set designer.
Fernandez began merging text with photos while earning her master of fine arts degree from California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. (She also has a bachelor's degree from UCLA.) At the time, she says, she was ``becoming disenchanted about the lack of information in photographs.'' Following a phase in which she photographed herself in multiple, Cindy Sherman-esque guises, she began experimenting by adding text to images.
``With the text, there's always this sort of balance between a more sort of analytical stance and a diary-type writing,'' she says. ``It's sort of a hybrid writing, in terms of storytelling.''
Storytelling serves an important function in ``Bend'' (1998), a gentler, more mystical piece than ``The Body Is an Analog,'' consisting of four enlarged, sepia-toned photos of pre-Columbian Mexican ruins, accompanied by a text panel. Fernandez took the pictures during a recent trip to Mexico, her family's ancestral home. While on that trip, she learned that her Mexican-born grandmother had died, severing a thread that inspired theartist to reconsider her family's past. The photographed ruins, tinged with poetic desolation, became studies in cultural reconstruction and memory retrieval.
``I'm very interested in this thing of filling in space, and that's what my perspective of Mexico very much is,'' Fernandez explains. ``My family was there, but I don't know much about it.''
`` `The Body Is an Analog' and `Bend': Two Works on Sight'' continues through Feb. 28 at the Art Galleries at CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Admission is free. For hours and information, call (818) 677-2226.