Dorothy Cross, Listen Listen, 2019, marble; left: 6 1⁄4 × 28 3⁄8 × 17 3⁄4“; right: 6 1⁄4 × 27 1⁄8 × 17 3⁄4”.

Dorothy Cross, Listen Listen, 2019, marble; left: 6 1⁄4 × 28 3⁄8 × 17 3⁄4“; right: 6 1⁄4 × 27 1⁄8 × 17 3⁄4”.

Dorothy Cross

Kerlin Gallery

Three solemn sculptures made from carved marble and, in one case, collected stones, made three weighty statements on the fragility of earthly existence. This sternly minimal exhibition by Dorothy Cross—titled, with alliterative delicacy, “I dreamt I dwelt”was a potent distillation of the Irish artist’s long-standing themes and recurring tropes and a powerfully mournful meditation on the dividing lines between human and animal, land and sea, life and death. Cross has been dreaming and dwelling along these boundaries since the 1980s, imagining, through the refined grotesquerie of her multifaceted art, all manner of unlikely encounters between spheres or states of being. Hybrid, uncanny objects have featured prominently. Cross thrives on thrillingly discordant crossings: one type of sensuous material or resonant relic spliced with another, one way of working and seeing infected by another. (She once described her artist self as “a cross between a butcher and a scientist.”) Copious body parts, real and represented, merge, mutate: Whole or cut-up creatures (sharks, crabs, snakes) and castings of human appendages (ears, fingers, penises) align and combine with sundry artifacts. For the landmark series “Udder,” 1990–94, she combined actual skins and mammary glands of dairy cows with an array of everyday items, to freakish effect. A cow’s udder wrapped around a rugby ball; cow teats attached to high-heel shoes; a construction worker’s hard hat adorned with nipples: Ordinary things became bestial, weirdly gendered fetish objects. For the well-known work Virgin Shroud, 1993, Cross cloaked a makeshift clothes rack with a cowhide and the satin train of her grandmother’s wedding dress. The resulting figure was a mysterious and monstrous subversion of religious statuary: a veiled icon recast as bovine ghost.

Cross’s work has, at times, crossed over into public art and theatrical spectacle. Her outdoor interventions and performative pageants, such as Heartship, 2019, for which she recruited an Irish naval vessel to carry a human heart into Cork Harbour, are audacious expansions of her bracing vision. Grand-scale ventures of this kind are nonetheless complemented—maybe even equaled—by her moments of quiet artistic contraction. Take, for example, the-pared-back-to-a-near-monochrome trio of creamy-white and pale-gray sculptures that make up “I dreamt I dwelt.” The three pieces resemble eerie, enigmatic monuments, strange memorials in an imaginary mausoleum—each one devoted to a distinct category of existential concern.

Listen Listen, 2019, attended to human relations, to isolation and intimacy. Side by side on a broad plinth lay two exquisitely crafted pillows, carved from marble. On each had been carved a single human ear, an isolated anatomical remainder, inseparable from the cold stone cushion to which it was attached. Paired, the two marble pillows and two proximate, inward-facing ears might have suggested loving, considerate closeness—each partner was, so to speak, all ears. But the interpersonal softness was, paradoxically, rendered in hard, rigid form.

ROOM, 2019, despite its title, looked to the outside world: This was a Delphic shrine to nature, a raised floor made from a grid of Carrara marble tiles, from which emerged the twisting, trapped figure of a shark. Also carved from Carrara marble, the shark was at once an eruption in the floor’s luxurious smoothness—repressed nature rebelling against civilizational, architectural order—and a lamentably domesticated life force.

The third element in this trio of sepulchral surrealism was Alphabet, 2017. An adaptable and ambiguous monument to meaning-making, it took the form of a small, tidy mound of quartz stones—sea-rounded rocks, gathered from the Connemara beach on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, near the artist’s home—twenty-six of which had been uniquely engraved with a different letter. Jumbled together, this “heap of language” (to borrow Robert Smithson’s phrase) might have been a symbolic word hoard, honoring subtle, shifting relations between text and territory. Yet this disorderly Alphabet had melancholy associations, too. A humble, careful accumulation of stones in a quiet place, the work resembled, if anything, a modest, improvised grave: a testament to something treasured, but also, perhaps, to something lost.