Pub date July 29, 2008
WriterAri Messer
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW Some early Bay Area figurative painting, wrote Peter Selz in 2002, encountered "the human figure by means of the physicality and the gestural performance of abstract expressionism." More explicit figures later emerged from this abstract cauldron. Ana Teresa Fernández, however, would rather start with the explicit body and work backward. Fernández, who grew up in Mexico, isn’t a figurative painter, performance artist, videographer, feminist, or Latina artist — although she assumes all of these roles from time to time. The best work at her 2008 Headlands Center for the Arts Tournesol Award exhibition, "Tela Araña Tela" (a mirroring of the Spanish for spider web), is so powerful, the movements in her work so difficult to look away from, that she acts as a detective, an intuitive investigator of the emotions embedded in human muscle tone and media complacence an exposer of the skin-tight, commonplace untruths of so-called manual labor.

By meticulously documenting stills from her own performance work — which uncovers, overstimulates, and ironically decapitates familiar images of femininity and the female worker — Fernández manages to blend forcefulness and stillness into her brand of revelation. The two large, untitled paintings depicting her body in muscular heels, beset — I don’t know how else to say it — by laundry on a clothesline, show no human face. The face has been smothered, disappearing into a wavering white sheet. The even larger painting shown here between those two, Untitled, a documentation of Jennifer Locke’s 2007 Artists’ Television Access performance in which she covered her body in glue, reveals a lattice or an amorphous web around Locke’s face, making it hard to tell if it’s the skin or the glue that’s melting. The works on paper displayed here — also performance documentations — lack the forcefulness of the paintings. But don’t miss the video installation, where balloons are popped like they’ve never been popped before.

TELA ARAÑA TELA Through Aug. 9. Wed.–Sat., noon–5 p.m., and by appointment. Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market, SF. (415) 255-5971, www.luggagestoregallery.org