by Jonathan Griffin
Venus, Los Angeles
The 14,500 square-foot former warehouse occupied by Venus, two blocks east of the Los Angeles River, is one of the largest spaces for showing art in the city. For certain artists, it must seem problematically vast. Earlier this year, Marianne Vitale responded to the building’s challenge by filling it with 60 tonnes of railway track and stacks of massive pine posts. The fine sculptures of Elaine Cameron-Weir, however, typically operate at the level of the jeweller’s worktable or the scientist’s lab bench. Her exhibition Snake With Sexual Interest in Own Tail could be read as an essay on the elasticity of our perception of scale. Surprisingly, in this outsize building, it worked.
It is not clear whether Cameron-Weir had in mind the oft-cited Chaos theory about the tornado-inducing butterfly when she cut two terrazzo table-tops into the shape of a butterfly’s wings. Each wing is the basis for a separate though virtually identical work, respectively titled Sentry Tactical Like Prey with Evolutionary Eyes of a Predator on the Wing 1 and 2 (all works 2016). The symmetrical sculptures are installed on opposite sides of the gallery, which is divided by a central wall. On the spot where each wing would be marked with the predator-deterring eye pattern (a publicity image for the show reproduced the kinds of wings in question) Cameron-Weir had placed a crucible of frankincense, and a glass pestle and mortar.
The doubling continued. At each end of the wing-shaped tables, laboratory clamps fixed various objects to vertical steel rods: crooked lengths of blue neon; clamshell halves containing ground frankincense, glass oil candles, wafers of mica on which frankincense was heated and – reflecting the candles’ flames – motorcycle rear-view mirrors. The set up evoked an alchemical experiment conducted by future techno-Wiccans.
In order to smell it, you had to put your head so close to the frankincense that you could see each caramelizing grain. In order to perceive the installation’s systemic gestalt, you had not only to step back far enough to see each sculpture in its entirety, but to circumnavigate the gallery in which a lumpen white adobe wall arced symmetrically through the central divide. Six additional neon, frankincense and clamshell apparatuses were fixed at intervals to the wall, designated by their titles – Threshold 1, 2 and 3 – as three pairs of gateposts. The titles here are misleading; the sculptures offered no sense of access to an alternative dimension, but rather were as hermetic and autonomous as living biosystems, each constituted by the same parts but each incrementally different.
This idea of nature as an imperfect copying machine was born out in five giant steel, copper and enamel snakeskins which were hoisted on cables from the ceiling like grotesque hunters’ trophies. Each individual scale (was the wordplay intentional?) was exquisitely handcrafted, recalling in its lustrous, mottled surface the nearby clamshells. While Cameron-Weir’s use of , these raw and irregular qualities return one to thoughts of nature, albeit projected through the fictive lens of a chilly sci-fi future.
First published: Art Review, May 2016