[caption id="attachment_482" align="aligncenter" width="517" caption="Jared begins to wonder: Has corporate downsizing gone too far?"][/caption]One of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid was Land of the Giants, a sci-fi series about the crew of a spaceship that crash-lands on an Earth-like planet where everything is 12 times bigger than they are. As shrunken-people stories go, it was much more satisfying than The Borrowers or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, in part because the set was full of giant telephones, ashtrays, and other household bric-a-brac, and members of the stranded crew were always in danger of being stomped on by people 70 feet tall.[caption id="attachment_483" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="An eraser for very large mistakes"][/caption]Little did I know that in the not-too-distant future, super-sized household appliances would become much more than simple stage props—they would become . . . art! Or that in a futuristic wonderland called the Walker Art Center, inflated office supplies and grooming tools would, in the equally gaseous words of its promoters, "transform the ordinary into something beguiling, loaded with narrative and metaphor, and imbued with an arresting sense of humanity."Lifelike, the Walker's brilliant and perplexing new exhibit, will make you think like that—but don't let it stop you from going. It's fun to look at a comb six feet tall and ponder the size of that guy's hair dryer, or stand underneath a card table ten feet high and feel, for a fleeting moment, like a schnauzer waiting for table scraps.This idea of "re-contextualizing" everyday stuff as objets d'art got started with the Duchamp-Johns-Warhol school of soup cans and sight gags, but has since been honed into a fine art by all sorts of artists for whom irony, deception, trickery, and subterfuge are the extra brushes in their palette. Fittingly, the exhibit opens with Jasper Johns' wall toast and Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes, but things immediately get more interesting. In the first section, called Common Objects, sits a giant lunch bag created by Alex Hay.It's made of painted fiberglass, but looks exactly like a paper bag—nay, a beguilingpaper[caption id="attachment_506" align="alignright" width="235" caption="Lunch for the whole office!"][/caption]bag—which of course prompts the viewer to contemplate various concepts of lunch, lunch-ness, lunch-ification, or lunch-iosity. It's an impressive piece, because it's very difficult to make a realistic-looking paper bag out of non-paper-bag materials, just as it is difficult to make a block of marble look like a Hefty trash bag, or a chunk of bronze look like a box of Kleenex. Yet you will find all of these objects and more in Lifelike, and when you encounter them in the context of a contemporary art museum, you will doubtless be reminded—lest you have forgotten—that the world is full of garbage and things to cry about.
Of course, the whole point of Lifelike is to exhibit work that messes with your mind (or what you think is your mind), by playing with various notions of scale, perspective, reality, and verisimilitude. My favorite part of the show is a video installation by Thomas Demand called "Rain." When you walk into the vestibule where "Rain" is showing, you see a giant screen with video of what looks like rain pelting a sidewalk, with rain-pitter-patter audio to match. As you look at it, you begin to realize that something is a little off—the image on the screen doesn't look quite like falling rain. Because it's not. The joke is that the "rain" in the video is really a bunch of cellophane candy wrappers caught in an elaborate stop-action video, and the "sound" of the rain is really eggs frying in a pan. Nothing in that room is what it seems—and that, ta da, is the fun of it. Much more fun than, say, the wall socket that isn't or the weeds that aren't, and way more disconcerting than the plastic spaghetti, the bronze sleeping bag, or the non-dumpster dumpster.[/caption]There's plenty more to Lifelike, from Sam Taylor-Wood's video of a bowl of fruit slowly rotting, to Susan Collis's pile of discarded junk that's really made of rare woods (holly, bird's-eye maple), precious metals (silver, platinum, white gold), and gemstones (black diamonds, garnets, mother of pearl). The most provocative pieces provide classic Walker WTF moments, and there are some—like Evan Penny's "(Old) No One," an eerily lifelike human head—that are in a class of amazement all by themselves. Trust me, if you look at that guy for more than five minutes, he will haunt your dreams.In its entirety, Lifelike constitutes a multifaceted meditation on the nature of "reality," by proving how easy it is to fool the senses into thinking something isn't what it seems. After all, when you see a bathtub full of water embedded vertically into a wall, you know something's amiss. The delight comes first in being tricked, followed by the satisfaction of learning how the trick is done. (Important note: read the plaques on the wall and listen to the audio accompaniment, or you won't be quite so satisfied.)Which is to say, Lifelike is a quintessential Walker exhibit: clever, provocative, cheeky, absurd, challenging, funny, whimsical, political, philosophical, confusing, and relevant. In the age of "truthiness," we need more than ever to be reminded that the world is full of lies. What better way to accomplish this than to mount an exhibit that admits up front it is B.S.-ing you. All you have to do is figure out how.Lifelike continues at the Walker Art Center through May 27.