Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lorna Williams at 5 Press Gallery

New Orleans East native Lorna Williams' assemblage sculptures at 5 Press Gallery are intriguing but also kind of eerie. Her mixing of industrial odds and ends with bones, teeth, animal parts and plant specimens may elicit first impressions like “Creole steampunk” or “techno voodoo,” but what makes them eerie is their paradoxical blend of both personal and cultural references that hark to the roots of this city and the diverse peoples who made it. Nola is usually defined by its joyous food, music and visual culture, but the real reason for its existence was all about commerce and industry, colonizers and slaves, in a location where waves of European and Caribbean immigrants came together to create its uniquely Creole culture. Williams' ruggedly complex works ultimately reflect the mysterious psychic and spiritual undercurrents that define this city's flamboyantly complicated history.
Educated at top art schools, Williams scored solo shows at trendy New York galleries while still in her mid-twenties, yet her rugged looking concoctions of derelict mechanical and biological objects appear to reflect a deeply personal quest for meaning more than just another calculated “art career.” For instance, Sprung, top, is a constellation of crescents and triangles fashioned from derelict wood, metal and other objects including plaster teeth and an alligator claw. Configured like a veve' or voodoo spirit diagram, it resonates like a techno-pagan altar, or perhaps a schematic reliquary salvaged from the rubbish bins of Crescent City history. Many works reference the body. Cleave(d), top left -- a kind of humanoid head cobbled from machine parts with plaster teeth and a turtle shell skull cap -- evokes a mechanical voodoo zombie, or maybe an underworld spirit from the days when Warehouse District buildings still housed infernal, sooty foundries and machine shops for the shipping industry. Onus, above left, a worn, torso-like tree trunk studded with shiny copper nails, evokes a post-industrial tree fetish, a totem memorial to all the travails, tears and tortuous journeys undertaken by so many who collectively created America's most joyously celebrational city. ~Bookhardt / Lo.cus: New Mixed-Media Works by Lorna Williams, Through Nov. 11, 5 Press Gallery, 5 Press St., 940-2900.