Each fall, Kala Art Institute selects nine artists for fellowships, exhibiting their completed work the following summer. Val Britton, Chris Duncan, Katy Higgins, Laura Paulini, and Bassem Yousri are featured in this year's Residency Projects I; Terry Berlier, Jeff Hantman, Sean McFarland, and Ranu Mukherjee will show in September's Residency Projects II. As in past years, the work is stunning, eclectic, and thoughtful, with a strong (but unplanned) East Bay representation by Britton, Duncan, and Paulini.
Britton's free-form paper assemblages ("Worldscape," "Trajectory") employ irregularly cut pieces of paper that derive their contours from road maps, but might equally refer to foliage, shadows, and clouds. These organic drawing/monoprint-collage fragments are glued to paper matrices or paper-strip lattices, webs, and grids, suggesting mutable, imperfect mergers of the observed natural world and the conceptual overlays we impose on it. Duncan's multimedia installation, "The Sun," pays homage to our solar benefactor with photographs, a poster wall, a drum set, a colored-string mandala, and a performative aspect; the artist persuaded friends to improvise music over a period of several months, creating sounds both "unlistenable" and transporting. These valid "reflections of life" derive from "youthful purity;" a twelve-inch vinyl LP is being made.
Higgins looks at the ersatz environments that we construct for zoo animals in her Empty Exhibits color photos, their muralized cage enclosures empty of animals or people: incongruous manmade objects populate the diorama in "African Savanna" and the domesticated jungle in "Tiger;" the mini-lake in "St. Lawrence Marine," with its sheep-shaped faux rock formations, is bordered by a huge mural of sky and forest illuminated by distant skylights. Paulini's ink drawings and engravings alternate between the naturalistic ("Graves Lake Plant Engraved") and the geometric ("Five Petal," "Simple Square"), but her abstract tempera paintings on panel ("Kaleidoscope," "Watermelon Medicine") suggest the phenomenal world, at least obliquely, with their intricate patterning and Braille-dot textures.
Last, but certainly not least, is Yousri's playful wall installation, "A Naked Model," a pyramid profusely filled with cartoonish, burqa-clad women — some resembling birds or seals — exuberantly bicycling, playing sports, dancing, space-traveling, watching romantic movies, newspaper-reading on the toilet, and even painting a well-endowed, delighted male nude. Youri's comic video rant in "About Extremism and Corruption" could apply to the American dystopia as well as the Egyptian; new videos premiere on August 11. Residency I runs through August 21 at Kala Gallery (2990 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-841-7000 or Kala.org/exhibitions/exhibition.html