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Unidentifiable but fascinating

Dan Barron's strange photos at Salon Refu

“Milton,” photograph by Dan Barron. Photo courtesy Salon Refu

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I was warned ahead of time by Salon Refu owner Susan Christian that Dan Barron's pop-up exhibition of "extraordinary" photos was going to be "exceedingly unnerving" and "incomprehensible." With words like that, how could I not be intrigued?

So I took myself down to Salon Refu, the most innovative gallery in Olympia (recently named Olympia's Best by this newspaper) to see what all the fuss was about. The exhibition was not completely hung. There were seven large and colorful photographs mounted under glass with no frame, but "floated" against the gallery walls, three on each side wall and one on a hanging panel facing the front window. There were no wall labels and no titles. What I saw were strange and beautiful photographs that appeared to be extreme close-ups of what appeared to be animal or human body parts - tiny sections of bodies blown up so large as to be unidentifiable but almost recognizable as eyes, eyelashes, teeth or claws or other hard and sharp organic things that could possibly be interior organs, and mechanical or metal appendages with a steampunk look or the look of Borgs a la Star Trek.

Much of the imagery was in super soft focus, but there were areas in equally super sharp focus, and the transitions between soft and hard were gradual and smooth. Much of the coloring was in tones of pink and violet and yellow.

The images hovered somewhere between abstract and realistic - but realistic images of the indescribable.

Near the back of the right wall when entering the gallery was a horizontal, rectangular photograph with a dusty rose form like perhaps the roof of a mouth or of a cave with two cavity-like openings from which or into which grew green shoots of grass.

Also on that wall was a soft and undefinable image of something perhaps underwater with bubbles and hair, everything but the hair in soft focus. And next to that was a picture of what might have been a row of teeth.

On one of two window-facing hanging panels was a picture in mostly black and white with touches of green divided into two large sections with something like drips of milk or a network of stark white bones jutting downward from the light top half into the velvety black lower half. Another photo shows what looked like a group of yellow-green pinchers like crab claws or some kind of teeth, some of them clearly submerged under water. Next to it was a photo of something like eyes and a cylindrical growth of something with hair and in the background sweet, candy-like bands of rainbow colors.

The macabre images combines with the candy colors and soft focus create a dichotomy of strangeness and loveliness that to some viewers might be upsetting and to others beautiful.

A day after seeing this show I was told by the gallery owner that some of the pictures without noted titles had titles such as "Milton," "Sliver" and "Stand," none of which give any indication of what the pictures are of. The artist said "Milton" comes from Paradise Lost. Christian told me that Barron makes the photos in the kitchen, using his own body and water and milk and kitchen utensils. She also said her favorite is one using "some pink body part and some kitchen forks." From that limited description, I can't tell which of the photos I saw could be the one to which she was referring.  

It is a very short show. It opened Feb. 25 and will be on view only through this weekend.

"Dan Barron Creepy Pop-Up," 2-6 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, and by appointment, through March 5, Salon Refu, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.280.3540

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