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Art Review: Hilja Keading, 'The Bonkers Devotional' at Angles Gallery

November 18, 2010 |  8:30 pm

Hilja Keading's "The Bonkers Devotional" is a powerful piece of theater that works best when it doesn't give too much away. At Angles Gallery, the setup is brilliant: a room within a room that presents a video within a video, each of which is a two-channel projection.

Keading Bonkers still In the outer section of a darkened gallery, video projections on four walls show golden leaves blowing in the wind, at times quivering gently and at others whipping violently. Inside a small, cell-like enclosure, a second two-channel video, projected onto adjoining walls, features a barefoot blond woman in a summer dress and a full-grown black bear.

Nothing much happens. But the sense that something bad is about to take place builds until the dread is palpable, toxic, nearly paralyzing.

Sometimes the paired projections reveal that the woman and the bear were filmed in the same bedroom at different times. These quasi-Jungian scenes suggest that one is the other's doppelganger.

At other times, the woman, who turns out to be Keading, and the 800-pound bear are together. The bear often snoozes. But it also takes a swipe or two at the artist, as if it feels crowded and needs a little more space. At other times, Keading and the bear come off as an old married couple, so familiar with each other's habits that words are unnecessary.

More common shots show Keading sitting as still as a statue or staring anxiously out a window. The creepiest scene shows her snuggling into the bear's furry body and wrapping her fingers around its claws as if it were her lover. This Freudian turn momentarily transforms "The Bonkers Devotional" into the girl version of Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man."

Another gallery contains nine page-size oils on canvas that Keading painted with her fingers. Some are strong. Others are duds. Some are sweet. Others disturbing. As a group, they lack the dramatic force of Keading's anxiety-laced video, which lures visitors into a circular story that goes nowhere except more deeply into the mystery of our animal selves.

-- David Pagel

Angles Gallery, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 396-5019, through Dec. 23. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.anglesgallery.com

Image: Hilja Keading, "The Bonkers Devotional," Credit: Angles Gallery

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