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Weekly Alibi Some Assembly Required

Three Artists Create Uncommon Constructions at Site 2121.

By Jeffrey Lee

SEPTEMBER 8, 1998:  I think it's fair to say that Sabra Sowell's wonderful constructions of paper, fabric, wire, metal and natural materials are the centerpiece of Site 2121's latest show, Mile 438. Their small-scale, scrupulous attention to craft and oblique references to the human figure set the tone for Jon McConville's and Dave A. Rogge's different but complementary work.

Sowell's preference for earthy, organic materials, surprising use of color, formal inventiveness and humor combine to make her wall-mounted objects immediately appealing. Her art isn't descriptive. It evokes, but doesn't portray, nature. One piece, Flight, looks like a pair of hummingbird nests. Wired to a metal bar, the two "nests" are rough sacks filled with twigs. Cotton Bowl is also a kind of nest, a heavily shaped and varnished paper shell with a lining of cotton husks, stems and seeds. They are among several pieces that use materials taken directly from the earth--art made from what's picked up off the ground.

Plate and Self Portrait are more interior. Shaped out of paper, fabric and other materials, and varnished to make them thick and stiff, they don't look like anything but what they are. Plate has something like a female nude drawn over its waxy surface; it could be a self-portrait. Self Portrait has no such reference. Its more complicated, busier-textured form is touched with colors that are dark and glowing at the same time, an evocative, rather mysterious piece. Both pieces humorously incorporate the wire that attaches them to the wall into their design.

Jon McConville works on such a tiny scale that his untitled assemblages demand literally close attention: You have to get right up on top of them. They mix slide transparencies, which feature a crouching male figure, naked except for one shoe, with small, enigmatic text fragments, partly concealed under layers of what looks like tissue paper. The same figure and texts appear inside small, bone- or horn-like objects made of clear Lucite, like fossils preserved in amber.

David Rogge's pictures use natural materials in a way that's very different from Sowell's work. The bright-painted tableaux, involving an androgynous figure that is varied from one picture to the next, each emerge from beneath patterns of small, bright, actual leaves, some with carefully preserved imperfections. Rogge's contribution to Mile 438 also includes three strange, whimsical wooden boxes that look gratifyingly nonfunctional.

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