Even if you're puzzled by Bob LaBobgäh's art, you'll know it when you see it. Nobody else in town -- maybe anywhere -- uses animal bones, phallic plaster casts, bat puppets, root vegetables, pools of water, Native American masks and dancers painted death-white in quite the same way.
Take LaBobgäh's video The Dada Puppet & The Oracle Trilogy. In part one ("Flesh of Shadow Ghost of Dada Puppet"), set in a bamboo grove, a couple dozen phalluses hang suspended from threads as a naked woman in a traditional Japanese hat enacts a cryptic ritual. In part two, "The Dada Puppet Eats Her Metempsychosis While Her Doppelganger Smirks" ("I like crazy titles," LaBobgäh acknowledges), a woman moves through a similarly surreal landscape as claws and eyeballs dangle about, soundtrack courtesy of the Heinz Chapel Choir.
"I like taking the internal psyche and sort of painting it on people metaphorically," says LaBobgäh. On Tue., Feb. 18, the 23-minute Trilogy screens at Film Kitchen (a CP-sponsored event), along with short documentaries by Neil Bhaerman and Michael J. Maraden.
LaBobgäh, 71, is a Montreal native and former Clarion University psychology instructor with a background in sculpture. He's slightly built, and often seen at art openings with a puckish gleam in his eye. In recent years, he's had solo shows at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' gallery and Downtown's 707 Penn (where the "Oracle" videos were part of the installation), and been in group shows at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Space Gallery.
"I guess I like making myths, creating my own myths," LaBobgäh says. He's as influenced by Buddhism as by the dada of Duchamp. His videos are often shot in the bamboo grove in his backyard, in Friendship. In lieu of digital effects, he prefers the venerable jump-cut, which allows people and objects to appear out of (or disappear into) nowhere. "Whenever you do that, you loosen someone's sense of reality," he says -- and possibly, he adds, introduce them to the mystical.
When people ask what his work means, LaBobgäh says, "Well, you tell me. ... If I tell you what I think it is, that limits your ability to imagine what's going on." He cites the Oracle video in which he meant the oracle to be the onion with red feathers. When someone suggested that it was, instead, the video's female protagonist, LaBobgäh recalls thinking, "Oh, that's nifty. She's the oracle now!"
Neil Bhaerman first noticed the phenomenon a few years ago, as a union organizer driving the backroads of Central Pennsylvania: Confederate flags, proudly displayed no few miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line. That intrigued Bhaerman, a University of Pittsburgh grad who grew up in New York City.
Bhaerman seeks answers in "Confederate Pennsylvania," a five-minute documentary that's one of four shorts he and collaborator Michael J. Maraden will show at the Feb. 12 Film Kitchen.
One Confederacy aficionado they interview, named Mike, recalls childhood visits to Gettysburg with his father. "We always took the Rebel side," says Mike. Says a senior citizen named Kurt: "That flag is a cherished symbol of Christianity."
The filmmakers, both 27, met at Pitt, where Bhaerman studied political science and Maraden, of Erie, was in the film-studies program. Their other Film Kitchen shorts include "Puppets," about Pittsburgh's 2006 Black Sheep Puppet Festival; "NREC," a documentary about anti-war protesters' 2007 civil disobedience at the Carnegie Mellon University robotics lab, in Lawrenceville; and Maraden's impressionistic solo piece "Surrender to the Air."
"Confederate Pennsylvania" is their most widely seen effort, at festivals including the Three Rivers Film Festival and Indie Memphis, and on Internet-based Current television. "The goal of that video was to let people say it in their own words," says Bhaerman, who now raises funds for environmental groups. In such Western Pennsylvania towns as Ruffsdale, Hunker and Vandergrift, rebel-flag-hoisting interview subjects were as cooperative as they were easy to find.
"We didn't even really look that hard," says Bhaerman. "We were just driving around Westmoreland County."
Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Mon., Feb. 18 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., Oakland. $4. 412-681-5449, x231 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org
Editor's note: This event was rescheduled due to winter weather on the 12th, the original date.
- She's a rebel from "Confederate Pennsylvania," by Neil Bhaerman and Michael J. Maraden.