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First Friday Rambles: Mehner installation a stunner

By MIKE DUNHAM

Da-ka-xeen Mehner’s installation “Finding My Song” on the top floor of the Anchorage Museum is perhaps the most impressive display I’ve ever seen in that space. The windows facing the Chugach Mountains have been blocked, creating the feeling of going inside a building. Two screens in the center of the space replicate the angles of a Tlingit clan house. But one’s attention is immediately diverted by what’s in front of those screens, a circle of 14 oversize spear points.

Mehner has made these from rusted metal. They have a strong ceremonial resonance. If you look closely you can see Tlingit words spelled out on some of them.

The first house-shaped screen is an image of the artist with a yellow bar of Fels-Naptha soap at his mouth. According to the artist’s statement, part of the message of the installation has to do with the forceful discouragement of Native languages and an elderly relative’s memory of the taste of the soap in her mouth as punishment for speaking Tlingit.

The other screen is a distorted photograph of the interior of a clan house. Between them is a projection of a traditional drum being struck.

But the stunning part of the show is on the most distant wall, a series of 18 drums whose skins bear have been molded over Mehner’s own face. Moving images of his face are projected onto most of them, all singing in unison a Tlingit song titled “Dakl’aweidi aayi.” The technical achievement alone is astonishing. So is the experience of just standing in front of the singing faces, at least when you have the gallery to yourself.

It may be a different experience with a crowd, but those who make it to Friday’s opening will have the chance to meet Mehner in person and hear him discuss his work.

Also downtown, the central space at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art has a display of pencil drawings by Heather Layton that show people in haz-mat suits working with some kind of recurring organic image that looks like either body parts or a plant. There may or may not be a story in the pictures, but Layton has clearly created a distinct world.

Ted Kincaid’s depictions of junk yard cars in colored ink, “Dirt,” is on the north side of the gallery. On the south are pages from the most recent edition of Alaska Quarterly Review showing the “Liberty and Justice for All” collection of photos by internationally-known photographers. The photos themselves go on display next month at Alaska Pacific University, where work by Fairbanks artists and glass sculpture by Heidi Banach of Eagle River.

In the Guest Room at the International is a selection of paintings by the late and much lamented Doug Gibson and lovely clay pieces by his widow, Isolde. Gibson died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, 2011. That exhibit is fittingly titled, “Forever in Our Hearts.”

Elsewhere in town, we’d like to direct readers to photos taken by Rohan Silbaugh, age 12, who recently returned from a trip around the world and came back with intriguing images from Tibet, India, Peru and other exotic spots. He recorded his adventures at rohangeographic.blogspot.com.

© Copyright 2011, The Anchorage Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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