Step Right Up 

Alyssa Salomon's photographs stand out with their theatricality and mass-media format.

Alyssa Salomon, whose show, "75% Reality; 25% Other," currently resides at Main Art, has found a hook that may separate her from the crowd. She photographs ready-made plastic people and animals against backdrops of photographs and other images seemingly culled from an attic. Salomon might be following a photographic trend to manufacture reality, but her approach appears new in both concept and form. Here the artist acts as set designer, lighting technician, stylist and director to stage scenes that are both comical and dramatic.

In "At The Elephant House," Salomon poses a bikini-clad female figure atop a white plastic elephant as if she is a circus performer. In the background a scrim covered with a pattern of large elephants reinforces the setting. Dramatically lighting her subjects as she might performers under the big top, Salomon infuses a familiar, tawdry life into these stiff dime-store people. And in "The Cow That Changed Architecture (Mrs. O'Leary's)," Salomon composes a simple tableaux (presumably of the Chicago fire) with a plastic cow and a picture-book illustration of fire leaping from a window.

Deliberately contrived as dark and campy with blasts from late 20th-century pop culture, Salomon's scenes suggest dreamlike episodes from a David Lynch production. Not for a moment will these images appear real, but the viewer will be drawn by their theatrical presence nonetheless.

As well as to clever staging, this series owes some of its carnival flavor to the means by which it was processed. Turning over her own color transparencies to Fast Signs, Salomon traded darkroom artistry for mass-production technology. Fast Signs enlarged the images to 4 by 6 feet and finished them in the form of indoor/outdoor quality signs. The resulting objects, each punctuated with industrial strength grommets in each corner and an overblown scale that pushes the small doll/models to near life-size, could double as cinema posters or minibillboards.

Yes, the ready-made attitude of the subject matter and the form of cheap signs fall within a working-class, low-art genre, but the sum of their parts ranks as high art, thanks in part to the artist's thought-out and somewhat formal compositions. To underscore the theatrical themes, for example, Salomon grounds the main figures in "At the Elephant House" and "The Chance You Refuse" at the bottom edge of each image, as if placing them at the center stage. In "The Chance You Refuse," Salomon pits a female figure against her moody environment by centering her in the foreground in front of a flat horizon line that cuts immediately behind the female figure's eye level. In "The Night, The Music & You," where gold toned figures of a man and woman passionately embrace in close-up, Salomon's dramatic framing of the life-size figures transforms them from inanimate to animate.

Salomon's choice of a photographic technology meant for the advertising industry not only lends itself well to her staged and somewhat sensational imagery, but doubles the fun of her make-believe world. Best of all, the viewer is left to question where mass media ends and art begins. S

Alyssa Salomon's "75% Reality; 25% Other" is on display at Main Art Gallery, 1537 W. Main St., through Nov. 30.


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