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Review: Lo.cus at 5 Press Gallery

Lorna Williams' work reflects New Orleans' spiritual and psychic undercurrents



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 personal and cultural references that hark to the roots of this city and the diverse people who made it. New Orleans usually is defined by its joyous music, food and visual culture, but the real reason for its existence was 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 complicated history.

  Educated at top art schools, Williams scored solo shows at trendy New York galleries while in her mid-twenties, yet her rugged-looking concoctions of derelict mechanical and biological objects appear to reflect a deeply personal quest for meaning rather than being just another calculated "art career." For instance,

Sprung (pictured) 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 other works reference the body. Cleave(d) — a 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 housed infernal, sooty foundries and machine shops for the shipping industry. Onus, a worn, torsolike tree trunk studded with shiny copper nails, brings to mind a post-industrial tree fetish, a memorial totem to all the travails, tears and tortuous journeys undertaken by so many who collectively created America's most celebrational city.

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