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'Terrain' plays with nature

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
LED lights add sparkle to the geode creations that are part of Kia Neill's 'Terrain' installation, which almost fills the Women & Their Work gallery on Lavaca Street. The exhibit runs through Feb. 27.

Ersatz nature can be so utterly beautiful.

And in the hands of Houston-based artist Kia Neill, such pseudo-nature - specifically the geological formations of her gallery-filling installation 'Terrain' now at Women & Their Work - is irresistible.

'Terrain' is engrossing in its detail, enthralling in its quirky homage to all things artificial and clever in its commentary on the tradition of landscape-rendering over the centuries of art history.

Neill clearly has raided her local craft supply store to assemble her art-making materials - sequins, glitter, flocking fiber, burlap, papier-mâché, blinking colored lights, chicken wire and that weird spongy polyurethane foam used by modelers to simulate tree foliage.

In what must have been a meticulous process (and a heck of a lot of time with the glue gun), Neill layered all that crafty stuff into an undulating cavescape adorned with craggy outcroppings and towering stalagmites. Odd geodelike cluster formations of plastic crystals pulsate with jewel-tone light. Crevasses reveal clusters of glittering, gaudy imitation precious stones. 'Terrain' covers nearly the entire floor of the Women & Their Work gallery. To navigate it, you follow a winding path.

But that's only after your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. The only illumination in 'Terrain' comes from the blinking or glowing colored LED lights that dot Neill's fake geological formations. You even have to pass through heavy curtains to slip into Neill's wonderland of a simulated cavern.

Is this a natural history museum diorama on special effects overdrive? The backdrop for a 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' theme park ride? Then again maybe 'Terrain' is a cave-themed Las Vegas restaurant.

Likely, it's all of the above.

As Neill's delightful ersatz environment suggests, we're as inclined these days to be as seduced by - or at least as accustomed to - a simulated landscape as we are the real thing.

Glitter, after all, is so irresistible.; 445-3699

'Kia Neill: Terrain'

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Feb. 27

Where: Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca St.

How much: Free