Larry and Debby Kline artists and provocateurs – installation, performances, and other works REVIEW July 12, 2011

Debby and Larry Kline at Mission Cultural Center

The War Ain't Over Till the Paperwork's Done


In You We Trust, the current exhibition at Mission Cultural Center Gallery, showcases the work of Debby and Larry Kline. The Kline’s are based in Escondido, CA and much of their work examines the border relationship between Mexico and United States. They work in a variety of materials, embracing experimentation, to create an array of sculptural pieces and installations; each piece or series addresses a particular socio-economic or political issue offering witty and timely commentary on current events.

Age of Enlightenment - Buddha Column

Age of Enlightenment - Buddha Column

Viewers enter the exhibition through The Age of Enlightenment (2009), a large shrine composed of eight pillars encircling a sarcophagus. The pillars were created by using commercially available slip-casting molds comprised of a variety of icons; Moses, Buddha, Easter bunnies, Medusa, and Disney characters to name a few. This shrine is aesthetically engaging, demanding the viewers attention and serves as a commentary on commodity and on the interchangeability of iconography, as well as the relationships between world religions and conflict.

The oldest work in the exhibition is photo documentation of The Electric Fields of California (2002). This project highlights the power infrastructure so vital to the sustainability of California. They installed fluorescent bulbs in rows under power lines in various locations, creating fences. Fluorescent bulbs, when installed under power lines, respond to the magnetic fields created by the electrical currents in the infrastructure and respond by illuminating themselves. In these installations the Klines tried to illuminate the potential health risks associated with magnetic fields created by the power lines and perhaps bring attention to the always contentious subject of power and infrastructure in the state.

Cathedral Gate from The Electric Fields of California

Cathedral Gate from The Electric Fields of California (2002)

40 Acres (2006) was created during a residency at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah. Here the Klines staked their claim and mining rights, “Manifesting destiny without shots fired” as they put it. They marked off territory with a GPS system and a mobility scooter fitted with a tank’s exoskeleton. On display in the gallery are an assortment of vials filled with salt from their piece of the Bonneville Salt Flats and the scooter-tank. The process of westward expansion, military and mining operations become the focus of this playful mapping of territory.

The Game at Hand

The Game at Hand

The past decade has provided a plethora of material for the Klines as the US government has waged on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Game at Hand (2002) is a chess set made of military figures, equipment, and veiled figures. Chess is a game of war, and this piece takes on the US Military-Industrial Complex and the complicated nature of global conflict. The set was toured, played, and the chess matches were recorded in various venues across the US, video documentation accompanies the piece. Another piece is The War Ain’t Over Till the Paper Work is Done (2008) a phalanx of one hundred paper-mache tanks climb over the wall in the shape of the Pentagon. It was created in-response to an audit that showed negligent accounting by the Pentagon and the fast-and-loose nature of military contracts given to private investors.


Their latest work is The Candy Store (2011). It is a pop-up gift shop of sorts for doctored drug companies with a number of trinkets on offer; teddy bears made of tobacco and small prescription purses; as well as scrubs, lab coats, and ceramic medicinal. The highlight of the store is a large collection of Egyptian-style canopic jars, each labeled with a drug of choice. The Klines went to Mexico and purchased the drugs labeled on each of the jars, ground up the pills, and incorporated them in the glaze recipe for each vessel. If you purchase a canopic jar, one may rest easy knowing that the essence of the industry graces each vessel.

The Candy Store

The Candy Store

The Klines work shines in its use of sly humor as a starting point for a discussion or commentary on the issues of our day. Also there is literal embeddedness or embodiment in the works, where the object contains the subject it is addressing; as is the case where pharmaceuticals are mixed into the ceramics or where the mold casings themselves constitute the sarcophagus. Their diverse use of materials and general playfulness with the subject matter keeps their work from being didactic or too ideologically cumbersome; which many artists run the risk of when choosing to critique such politically loaded subjects. The pharmaceutical industry, power and infrastructure, or the military-industrial complex, are not light subjects; but they succeed in addressing them in engaging ways.

In You We Trust is at the Mission Cultural Center (2868 Mission Street, San Francisco CA) until July 24th.

The Candy Store - Tobacco Teddy Bears

Tobacco Teddy Bears from The Candy Store





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