An oil drum seems to unspool up the wall in Untitled Prayer Rug (2008). The body of the drum is perforated with a rug-like pattern depicting what might be some martyr’s imagined heavenly harem — naked ladies (they look like the silhouetted women on truck mudflaps) lying about and what looks like girl-on-girl action. Splayed, flattened oil cans are carved with patterns of fighting and leapfrogging women (I kept thinking: “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling”) and animal-people hybrids, as well as dogs, bunnies, frogs, a lamb, plants, guns, angels, a cross, and what looks like a baptism in a river. Pug and the Proposition has four lady legs at the left and at the right a very smily dog with its tongue hanging out and what I gather are decidedly, uh, inappropriate intentions.
Lane’s symbolism feels by turns simplistic (America and oil and religion, oh my) and random (all that stuff surrounding the map of the US). But her designs and her craftsmanship dazzle. They convey echoes of Art Nouveau ironwork, tattoos, lace, embroidery, lingerie, classical pottery, Javanese shadow puppets, antique maps, maybe a dash of Nancy Spero. She balances deliciously between rough-and-tumble metal dissected by flaming plasma cutters and delicate neo-rococo designs. I just wonder whether she mightn’t get a better handle on her content by thinking more about sex. It’s already there in her pervy pug and prayer rug. And really it’s the foundation of her project, if you consider that beauty — from the birds and the bees to the flowers and the trees — is all tied up in this thing called “love.”
Harriet Casdin-Silver’s self-portrait show at Gallery NAGA was scheduled before she died from complications of pneumonia in March at age 83, but now it serves as a memorial. The Brookline artist began making holograms in the late 1960s, and she was called “America’s foremost art holographer” (are there others?) by DeCordova Museum curator Nick Capasso when the museum mounted a retrospective of her work in 1998.
70 + 1 + 2: Casdin-Silver was driven by a
feminist mission — in this case, coming to
terms with and celebrating the aging female
Casdin-Silver was part of a tradition of Boston-area artists — including Harold Edgerton, Berenice Abbott and, today, the Collision Collective — who push science toward art. For her, techno razzle-dazzle was a means to an end. “A lot of people use light to get technical effects,” she told me last year. “That was never my mission. My mission was to help women grow in every way — psychologically, sociologically, and in belief in themselves.” This feminism helped drive her work of the past two decades, which focused on coming to terms with and celebrating aging and the body, and particularly aging human female bodies in all their imperfections.
Her hologram Coda (1992–2000) suggests the wear of time by hiding a sour-faced Casdin-Silver behind a ravaged silvery surface. Her head turns, as if following you, when you pass the picture. The best of the six pieces here is 70 + 1 + 2, a pair of self-portrait triptychs floating on a sheet of metal. In a Jell-O-green hologram on the left, she stands facing us with eyes closed, nude, holding up her 71-year-old breasts, and balancing on her right foot. On the right she assumes the same pose a year later, in a color photo, but she faces away from us with her hands held behind her back. Notice her red hair, the hearing aid behind her ear. Casdin-Silver often wasn’t a master of composition or drawing out her sitters; the power of her work was in her eye for compelling bodies and their fleshy, otherworldly presence in her holograms.