zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


alexis vaillant
love for sale
lutwidge finch a novel: chapter 5
evil camouflage




Michael Arata, rectangular grayscale killer rainbow with concealed weapon, mixed media

For the past five years or so, Michael Arata has been messing around with nipples, throw rugs, larva, killer rainbows, and other self-invented creatures. They are the kind of inventions that one might come across in a puppet show or at a conference for failed toys.

In his most recent body of work, Arata showcases a series of polychromatic and gray scale rainbows. The grouping of rainbow characters follows a strict military mode of order by their arrangement on each wall. All the walls are invisibly sub-divided, with full color rainbows on the top, and their gray scale partners on the bottom. Each of these rainbow hybrids are carefully fixed with mass produced fabricated eyes that blanklessly stare at the viewer. As a subtle touch to each piece, he paints each rainbow with a brightly colored backside, giving them the feeling of natural radiating light. Arata's influence for these ridiculous decorations clearly stems from the common place aesthetics of middle America. For example, these rainbows by their very appearance aren't too difficult to initially identify with. They appear to be non-threatening, friendly in nature, fun to look at, and relatively playful rainbow characters. These are the kind of pieces that have broad appeal, and Arata purposely exploits this, by intentionally making himself, on the surface, a part of the mass public's dominant taste for light, cute, and even entertaining art.

With his piece titled sun in the corner, he cleverly fits the usually wasted space of a ceiling corner with a three dimensional yellow ball. It, too, like its rainbow counterparts, has dummy eyes. From afar, it recalls an innocent childlike fabrication, but up close, its construction and placement are unquestionably deliberate. For example, the almost hidden status of this out of the way sun, quietly demonstrates a lack of virginity. It ominously mirrors our own happenings, where inconspicuous deceit of the general public on the part of so-called public servants has become a given. Not looking for a political solution though, Arata merely mimics this behavior, and not so much argues with it. As viewers, we catch him in "the act", with his inconspicuous but conspicuous sun arrangement. It is a testimony of the true lack of wit that the deceiver possesses. In addition, Arata's general placement of these pieces alludes to the possibility that these same subjects, like the sun and rainbows, might be in the way, or even incorrectly placed. This is important, because it calls into question our personal acceptance of our surroundings, the truthfulness of their order, and the consequences of it all. By tinkering with the placement of these irrevocably positioned objects, he challenges not only their very order, but also more subtly indicates that we, in fact, might ourselves be incorrectly located, or somehow in the way. Perhaps, as Arata suggests, we must re-evaluate ourselves, and take responsibility for our own gullibility.

Instead of focusing on the study of color, or the formalities of light, Arata chooses to explore another avenue: how things in our universe look through eyes different than our own. For instance, his gray scale rainbows give consideration to how predatory animals would actually see a rainbow; only in gray tones. This combination of harmless rainbows from a predatory viewpoint suggests a different context for these pieces, and reminds us of the definable difference between a victim's world and the offender's. Criminals, as many will attest to, don't see flowers, rainbows, or other items associated with innocence and loveliness in the same manner as everyone else. it's not clear whether by implication viewing these gray scale rainbows makes us complicit with the criminal predator or not. Regardless, Arata leaves open the possibility that our perception of what we see, may not necessarily be as accurate or correct as we would personally like to think.

As in past work, Arata has resumed and kept his playfully fused with a dark twist demeanor. Suggesting that we view friendly appearing subjects from altered perspectives of evil is not, at first, an obvious path. In the end though, I think he pulls it off by getting us to see the pessimistic side of optimism.


Ronald DeLegge

Skokie, Illinois