"Punball: Only One Earth"

William T. Wiley's anti-genre-fication catalog reaches a grinning pinnacle
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"Punball: Only One Earth"

PREVIEW From large-scale printmaking to the small masking-tape sculpture Pillow Talk (2002), William T. Wiley's anti-genre-fication catalog reaches a grinning pinnacle in the 65 works from the past eight years on display at the "Punball: Only One Earth" exhibit at Electric Works. Wiley's piece, Punball: Only One Earth (2007) is a completely remade (and playable) version of Gottlieb's 1964 "North Star" pinball game, which celebrated the nuclear-powered USS Nautilus' North Pole undersea crossing. With saturated colors, globes drunk on their own worldliness, and puns on our heated global situation, Wiley's game is an ironic distillation of his acutely history-conscious world. It's as if a marketing agent had bought the rights to his signature characters and symbols — Mr. Unnatural, wick-like ampersands, angelic hourglasses — and produced a Wiley-model game that the artist then carefully sabotaged late at night while sporting one of his own dunce-cap sculptures, just before its release.

The game is the product of more than a year's collaboration: the original machine came from Electric Works supporter Joe Sweeney. "In my age bracket, pinball machines were everywhere," Wiley said by phone from his west Marin residence. "You were often eating hamburgers to the sound of ding, ding<0x2009>!" Working on this project, he found "a whole culture of pinball people.... It's an actual folk art form: insider, outsider. It touches lots of different things."

When I ask about what the younger generation, with our poor grasp of history, might be missing in Wiley's work, he laughs and brings the discussion back to the importance of using "humor and absurdity" to critique the present. For Wiley, humor has an element of chance. He found the school desk for the sculpture and print Deskerado/Child's Play Print (2007) during a walk to the post office. A random crack in the wood became a red, white, and blue equatorial line on the white-on-black print. "No Child Left A-head," the print declares, mourning, above all else, our loss of imagination.

PUNBALL: ONLY ONE EARTH Through July 28. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Electric Works, 130 Eighth St., SF. Free. (415) 626-5496, www.sfelectricworks.com

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