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Review: Sitting Prone

D. Eric Bookhardt on Rachel David's sculptures at Barrister's Gallery

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They can look as softly languid as flowers or jellyfish although they were crafted out of the hardest of metals. Created in an age when automation makes many things happen instantly, these objects were forged slowly in a blacksmith shop using centuries-old techniques and subjected to heat that often exceeded 2,000 degrees. Even their appearance flaunts contradictory ideas about time, somehow melding 19th-century art nouveau flourishes with futuristic science fiction overtones. And if the contrasts built into this Sitting Prone expo of Rachel David's steel and wrought iron sculptures seem endless, that only adds to their mystique. At a time when much of the world — including the global art world — can seem desiccated and demystified, her enigmatic objects radiate an almost alchemical presence. Yet, for all that, they are the mental offspring of an artist best known for useful objects like tables, lamps and candelabra as well as architectural elements like the serpentine gates at Bywater Art Lofts and the nearby sculpture garden. Shifting from practical crafts to otherworldly sculptures should be quite challenging, but David's approach provides a seamless transition.

  David says she is inspired by interpersonal relations, which sounds like an odd basis for works like Still Life, an elaborate concoction of spindly forms such as a hybrid mix of passionflower and a sea anemone. While very different species, both are visually appealing and interactive: One attracts bees to help it propagate and the other seduces its prey. Encounter (pictured) suggests an oversized seed pod with long, graceful jellyfishlike tendrils that descend to its base where they coil as languidly as a cobra in repose. It's shocking to realize they once were discarded machine parts or plumbing fixtures given a new life as art. So what do we make of all this? The ancient alchemists tried to make gold from lead, but blacksmithing such ethereal visions from the strongest of metals seems an almost equally daunting proposition. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT

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