Art Review: Cal Lane, BCA Center | Art review | Seven days

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  • Pamela Polston
  • “Sweet Spill” (left) and “Fabricate”

Cal channelThe art of is a matter of dichotomy – in fact, multiple dichotomies. It invites the contemplation of opposites, even of what opposing means. An exhibition of Lane’s work in plasma-cut steel and mixed media is mind-blowing, as most visitors to his current exhibition at the BCA Center will attest.

The recently deceased curator DJ Hellerman made the wise decision to include just a few pieces – five sculptural works and one installation – to give each room some leeway. In other words, visitors have the physical space necessary to contemplate, digest and reflect on what these works convey.

Masculine and feminine is the most obvious binary in Lane’s designs. Although an easy target, the Canadian-born artist approaches it in her own unique way: by cutting doily-like designs into heavy, once utilitarian pieces of steel. The process must be more difficult than she lets on.

In “Sweet Spill” (2010), an oil drum sits horizontally in the gallery, a floral pattern excised almost all around its perimeter. The pattern continues at the bottom and a splash appears at the top. In front of the drum, the “spill” manifests as flourishes of two-dimensional steel on the floor – in fact, it resembles the tendrils of ferns unfurling. Lane confuses flourishing nature with the implied ruin of an oil spill, subtly introducing another contrast.

Next to this, “Fabricate” (2001) features three sections of rusty I-beams cut with repeating circular patterns – one different in each piece. The beams are placed in intriguing proximity, two on the floor tilted to each other, the third leaning nonchalantly against the wall, as if abandoned by workers at a construction site.

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Laced (as pure as New York snow)" -PAMELA POLSTON

  • Pamela Polston
  • Laced (as pure as New York snow)”

If the materiality of these pieces is clearly heavy, the punctilious decorations give them an unexpected, almost absurd delicacy. To anthropomorphize, they are both stubborn and flexible. Domesticity and industry are also contrasted in these works – although this interpretation also turns into inescapable gender stereotypes.

Lane makes us think deeper with his two murals, “Infrared Illumination” (20 by 38 inches) and “Mortar Horses” (20 by 32 inches). Both were made in 2011 from old ammo boxes – one still retains an orange diamond-shaped label reading “EXPLOSIVE 1.2 G”. Here again, the artist incorporates floral motifs, but also avian ones, into his metallic cutouts. But “Infrared” also features a character with a club in this setting, seemingly beating a crouching figure in front of him. This primitive depiction of aggression is consistent with the source material but contrasts with the delicate filigree effect. Lane’s title for the piece is enigmatic.

“Mortar Horses,” also cut from an ammunition box, depicts a central, ostensibly male figure with outstretched arms, each hand gripping the reins of a winged horse. It conveys the feeling of both hideous power and savage, barely contained rebellion.

A mythological theme is fully embraced in “Gutter Snipe” (2011). At 82 by 238 inches, it is the largest of the metal works in the exhibit, made of cut steel and corrugated pipe. Essentially a long, slightly curved shape against a wall, it forms a passageway that gallery visitors can enter, heeding the “Sharp” warning sign.

Lane covered the room in negative tattoos; that is, figure cutouts including a satyr, winged cherubs, and a figure resembling a shepherd with a staff. There are also creatures: mean-faced dogs, raptors with outstretched wings, unicorns and… rats? Definitely unattractive rodents. The overall look of this piece is pretty, like a giant pierced pewter candle holder. But closer examination suggests a cross between medieval armor and geomancy. The archetypes on its surface are off-putting, but step into the structure and it offers a sense of protection, a shield.

Unlike the artist’s “Filigree Car Bombing” – a 2007 commentary on terrorism not included in this exhibition – the significance of “Gutter Snipe” is less obvious. But given his title, Lane may have created an elaborate homeless shelter.

In the back room of the BCA Center, Lane goes completely without steel. “Laced (as Pure as New York Snow)” is made up entirely of 15 almost identical patterns laid side by side on the floor. In previous exhibitions the artist has used earth for similar installations, but here his medium is powdered sugar – mixed with borax to discourage insects.

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"Infrared lighting" -PAMELA POLSTON

  • Pamela Polston
  • “Infrared Lighting”

Lane’s model was a lace tablecloth, which she sifted powder through to create the impression of, well, 15 white tablecloths lying on the floor. Knowing this, however, only partially answers the question How did she do it? Trying to figure this out is an absorbing puzzle for viewers.

In one side of the pattern, Lane pushed a sharp swoosh. Visually, the disruption creates an intriguing tension. Conceptually, “Laced” suggests domesticity and the civilized ritual of setting an elegant table (never mind that euphemism for cocaine in the title). It’s surprising to find this elegance on a floor; it is bittersweet to realize that it will be swept up and thrown away at the end of the exhibition. This impermanence, after all, speaks of an altogether different order of contrast: life and death.

Lane’s skill in his designs is extraordinary, but “Traditional Culprits” is, ultimately, an object lesson in how we see and think about the dichotomies around us and within us.