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“Kyle Butler: Mortality Tantrums”

Through May 2 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave.)

Every so often, the churchlike quiet of the Hallwalls gallery is shattered by the feral scream of Kyle Butler, a Buffalo artist whose works explores the complex space between individual desire and the collective will.

The scream comes from Butler’s riotously funny video “Leisurely Confronting the Abyss,” in which the artist drags a beat-up recliner through the streets of downtown Buffalo to the waterfront. There, he places the recliner on the jagged rocks, unfolds a tray and pours himself a cup of coffee from a comically large thermos. After a few moments gazing out at the sunset over Lake Erie from his comfortable perch, he simply screams at the top of his voice at the dimming horizon before the screen goes black. That is Butler’s deeply satisfying “mortality tantrum,” a temporary freak-out about the impossibility of the human condition.

Butler’s work is about dragging inside things outside, and vice versa, in an attempt to blur the boundaries between the natural and constructed worlds. The show includes several sculptures that speak to this notion, including a tree that seems to have grown through a chain-link fence, an unnaturally slanted porch attached to nothing at all and a recent painting from a series that explores ideas about chaos and order.

Butler’s sculpture and video work makes more explicit the themes that have long motivated his drawings and paintings. Here, his exploration of the middle ground that lies between what we build and what we want becomes clearer and more compelling than ever.

“Relics”

Through April 27, Indigo Gallery (74 Allen St.)

German-born set designer and artist Kristina Siegel has been having something of a moment on Buffalo’s arts scene. Her design for Torn Space Theater’s “Mud,” which consisted of silk organza that doubled as the actors’ costumes and the set, has been the talk of the local theater scene. Her work, in galleries and theaters, is driven by narratives and by memories.

Indeed, walking into Indigo Gallery, visitors may be struck with the sense that they’re walking into a play-in-progress. A translucent dinner table fashioned from the same fabric hangs from the gallery’s second floor. A collection of cups, plates and bowls crafted from organza sit on the table, the ghostly remnants of a dinner party that might have taken place a century ago.

On the walls hang a series of still-lifes in the German Expressionist style on the same fabric, depicting the jagged lines of ancient table settings. They look like what might happen if you handed a paintbrush to a sleepwalker in the midst of a nightmare set in a haunted house.

While it certainly stokes the imagination, the theatricality of this installation would be better served by a more theatrical space that enables it to strike the specific emotional chords at which it aims. Like a recent installation by Patrick Robideau and the current show by Kyle Butler in Hallwalls, Siegel’s is the kind of work that, like a play, has trouble shining through in the context of a light-filled storefront gallery. Even so, it is an appealing complement to Siegel’s stage work and is well worth a look.

“Chantal Rousseau: Harbingers of Doom”

Through May 2 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center

The preferred medium of Chantal Rousseau is the animated GIF, a remnant of the early Internet age that has been redeployed as a humor-delivery system in the service of 21st century attention spans. In Rousseau’s work, however, humor is almost absent.

Her animations include a canoe slowly sinking into a picturesque lake, an owl perched atop a lifeless body and a grinning, bikini-clad woman squeezing a fish to no apparent purpose. The works are almost all instantly unsettling, messing with our expectations about a form that we mostly identify with cute pets, unintentionally hilarious babies and subtitled snippets of sitcoms.

The work is tied up with death – the bodies of Rousseau’s series “And now let us weep for the lovely ladies of CSI,” the use of birds of prey, that sinking canoe – and its extremely short duration only emphasizes that connection. The life of each loop, lasting perhaps 20 seconds at most, is in some way a reflection of a human life cycle and a statement about our obsession with the end and our collective journey toward it.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com