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Tania Candiani at MACLA

A comprehensive body of Tania Candiani's work fills MACLA's recently renovated and expanded gallery, transforming it into a funhouse of the female form, a futile cycle of binge and purge. Pepto Bismal pink exercise machines, a punching bag swinging like a pendulum in a boxing ring, a looped video of a fitness instructor demonstrating his routine, and so many distorted lines and protuberances of women's bodies come at the viewer with a relentlessness that rivals the commercial world outside.

In the gallery's front room are hung a series of four large women's bodies scraggily sketched on four large neutral-toned canvases; and while being the least colorful pieces in the exhibit, they are the most compelling. From a distance easily mistaken as pencil drawings, the women's foreshortened mass, in varying positions and contortions, have in fact been determined by needle and thread. But this does not make the resultant renderings any softer. These women gorge and gag and retch. Entitled Appetencia/Appetite, Repulsion/Repulsion, Satisfaccion/Satisfaction, and Voracidad/Voraciousness, respectively, the woman, in turn, sits white-knuckled and resolute in front of a dinner plate setting, huddles in fetal position, opens her mouth wide as if to scream, and sticks her finger down her own throat. Each occupies an instant in the perpetual cycle of hunger and self-hatred, desire and denial.

In the series, Tipos de Gordura/Types of Obesity Candiani again sews the outlines of women's bodies onto canvas, but this time stuffs parts of them with cotton batting. The pieces accompany excerpts from medical text that associates an illness or social deviance with every conceivable fat formation. The disproportionate engorgements bring to mind the "before" picture in ads for liposuction and miracle diet pills. These women are flawed and need to be fixed.

Thus the significance of sewing, for it not only references the problematic notion of "women's craft", but it conjures a metaphor of mending that Candiani radically dispels. Candiani's stitches are unwieldy, aggressive- loose threads dangle and knot. These women are not feigning fixedness- they are visibly coming undone at the seams.

Their "undoing" is evidenced throughout the gallery. Pink bathroom scales are aligned in grid formation on the floor, each one named for a potentially fattening food or drink- "Pizza" and "Cerveza" to name a few. Hostess products like Ding-Dongs and Snowballs are crammed into square-shaped plastic bags, sewn together- this time with dental-floss- and hung on the wall like a quilt. Another corner of the gallery emulates a workout room in which viewers are encouraged to participate. Multiple exercise machines, including a motorized belt intended to shake excess poundage off the user's posterior, are painted a pink that effectively competes with the Hostess cakes nearby. Keeping the proposed exercisers on track (and away from the tempting cakes) is "Mr. Baja California 2001," in Gimnasia en su Hogar/Home Exercise, doing jumping jacks in a video projected on the wall. Candiani has also recreated an interactive boxing ring, but the boxer, wearing the intended 20-pound vest, fights a losing battle. The punching bag is pasted with trendy diets, like the infamous "Cabbage Diet", that are destined to fail.

It is easy to view Gorge/Gorgeous and feel disgusted, equally by these women and the culture that created them. But Candiani presents her subject matter with enormous empathy and implication and, thankfully, a relieving dose of humor. She thereby permits us to feel our own fluctuation- the disgust as well as the desire.

Tania Candiani was born in Mexico city. She lives and works in Tijuana. Gorge/Gorgeous is her first solo show in Northern California.

She will be giving an artist's talk at MACLA on Wed., Dec. 3rd at 6:30pm.

Gorge/Gorgeous: Work by Tania Candiani
October 11 - December 6, 2003
Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana
510 S. First Street San Jose, CA 95113
<a href="http://www.maclaarte.org">www.maclaarte.org</a>;
408-998-ARTE