Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ephemera Obscura at the CAC

The newly renovated Contemporary Arts Center looks more sleekly polished than ever, so it may come as a surprise that the lobby gallery currently resembles a vast curiosity cabinet -- or maybe the most meticulous estate sale ever. But a T. S. Eliot quote in Aaron Levi Garvey's curator statement explains everything: “It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves.” Although the diverse works in this Ephemera Obscura show demand empathic contemplation, their evocation of the secret life of objects insightfully reflects this city's pervasively soulful, yet oddly elusive, aesthetic. In a city where altars -- Roman Catholic or voodoo -- have long set the tone, the power of ritual objects is taken for granted as even ordinary things sometimes appear charged with mysterious new meanings.

The possible variations are endless, as we see in Tony Degradi's excavated books with pages carved away to reveal new collage-like narratives, as in Family Time, above. the Milagros Collective's populist altar of plastic crustaceans and tacky action figures, or Lorna Williams' assorted plumbing and electrical parts reborn as a skeletal human torso, or Artemas Antippas's bleached chicken bones ritualistically arranged on a cosmic blue-glitter platform. Loren Schwerd's woven thread tapestry spelling out words from chemical and soil hydrology processes recalls voodoo's talismanic use of hair, in a late-industrial incantation of sorts. Even more subtle is Mannon Bellet's In Search of Lost Intimacy, a pair of empty Plexiglas cases that, when opened, release alluringly delicate scents distilled by Swiss perfumers from soil and plant samples from local endangered habitats. But in Carlton Sturgill's Garden of Delights shabby-chic glass shanty cobbled from old windows, the emptiness is  for the way it suggests an ethereal trysting place for lusty invisible spirits, above left.

Moma Tried's Voynitsky Estate doll house, above, is astoundingly detailed right down to the tiny Tom Waits LPs in the den. But the most emblematic of all may be Christopher Lawson's How She Saved Everything, top (detail), assemblage of doll parts, artificial flowers and filigree, toy soldiers and rosary beads – an outstanding example of the cosmic potential of clutter. ~Bookhardt / Ephemera Obscura: Mixed Media by Regional Artists, Through Oct. 1, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.