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Simply Complex 

Simplify, simplify, so goes the refrain. We are routinely admonished to simplify our lives, and yet things just get more and more complicated all the same. As technology gives us ever more "time- and labor-saving" options, we somehow end up having more to do and less time to do it in. It's obviously a plot; a conspiracy to entrap us in a confounding web of complexity. And who's to blame for this diabolical delusion? It somehow doesn't help to know that a lot of it is our own doing, for the most part.

Sculptor Gina Laguna has had it with all that. After some life-altering events caused her to rethink her priorities, the 40-year-old artist, known for her welded abstractions, decided to devote herself to a more reflective approach to life and art. And while her welded steel pipe and square tube concoctions are as angular as ever, they now refer more to everyday life, and especially to nature, for their inspiration. "Droplets on a vine ... a spider hanging on a silken thread" are the kinds of images Laguna has in mind, yet in her work she makes no attempt to imitate, but rather to conjure "a simple moment that has affected and influenced me."

Stump is a wall-mounted sculpture, a simple yet seemingly tangled mass of steel. Trunk-like forms are suggested by long cubic rectangles, while steel tubes shooting off at random angles evoke roots and limbs. It's an odd mix of formalism and chaos, and if it weren't so smoothly finished, it might almost pass for a bit of WTC wreckage. But no, it's obviously a steel sculpture that melds industrial techniques with something of nature's chaotic wildness. Similar approaches appear in Sprout, an 8-foot-tall floor sculpture with scraggly strands of steel poking skyward from welded metal cubes like a constructivist monument to germinating mung beans.

After the Rain is somewhat simpler, a wall-mounted piece with steel cubes hanging from an arching rod like Japanese lanterns dangling from a limb -- or raindrops on a vine in a cubist universe. Yet Weeds, a group of thistle-like steel starbursts atop a cluster of spindly stilts, complexifies things a bit. But ain't that just how it is? No matter what you do, the weeds always seem to have the final say. Complications just happen on their own, as we saw in Trunk, which under a spotlight became twice as complicated as the shadows cast by its angular elements multiplied the impression of a snarled mass of tangles. All in all, the dozen or so works in the show make for an interesting melding of 20th century modernism -- including overtones of late-50s pop-architectural cubism -- with something of nature's freeform wildness.

Obviously, this simplicity stuff is more complicated than it seems. With so much to do and so little time, we are always racing the clock, which these days is more pervasive than any religious symbol. So it should come as no surprise that Madeleine Faust has rather logically transformed the clock into an icon in her new work at Sylvia Schmidt. Like Laguna, Faust works in metal and is also strongly influenced by geometry, but there the similarity ends, for Faust favors soft aluminum shaped into circles and rods over Laguna's angular steel constructs.

The results are mostly rather sleek and precise, sometimes even delicate, with echoes of the classic art deco and Bauhaus designs of the 1930s. Convergence is a precisely lyrical concoction of circles, rods and disks finished in black, white and silver. Its aluminum and steel facade evokes clockworks and clock faces without actually resembling those things. Instead, the rods conspire with the circles to suggest an almost metronomic passage of moments, so the rods are like conductors' batons as much as clock hands. There is also a hint of precision instrumentation in its crisp finishes, but in fact it does nothing but sit there, rather decorously, even prettily, suspended on the wall, measuring nothing but perhaps the viewer's gaze. Which, of course, is all it has to do. Included also are some fussier and more surreal concoctions that are interesting yet hard to reconcile with the cleaner, more deco looking stuff -- as if the urge to complexify had once again proved irresistible.

click to enlarge Gina Laguna's Stump, part of her Simple Moments exhibit at Jonathan Ferrara, melds industrial techniques with something of nature's chaotic wildness.
  • Gina Laguna's Stump, part of her Simple Moments exhibit at Jonathan Ferrara, melds industrial techniques with something of nature's chaotic wildness.
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