New York

View of “Elaine Cameron-Weir,” 2019.

View of “Elaine Cameron-Weir,” 2019.

Elaine Cameron-Weir

Let’s get these out of the way: A BDSM dungeon for alchemist Bitcoin investors. A druid hideaway in the abandoned Palo Alto headquarters of the corporation Theranos. A crossover between Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, where Walter White cooks meth for White Walkers. I could go on. This is the kind of prose that the art of Elaine Cameron-Weir inspires. Her assemblage sculptures and their lengthy, loopy titles—e.g., at the end of the line an echo sliding downtown the mercurial reflective pool of a familiar voice and me a person it never made real in the mirrors of my own halls (all works 2019)—variously suggest laboratories, armories, cloisters, catwalks, abattoirs, shrines, hospitals, or crypts. Comb through reviews of her past exhibitions and you’ll find several gallant attempts to capture their prevailing mood in a single pithy turn of phrase. Part of the pleasure of her work is making sense of all the finely wrought associations. But getting too caught up in the welter of anachronisms distracts from how her sculptures relate to the present.

For her exhibition “strings that show the wind,” Cameron-Weir covered the gallery floor with perforated steel plates, a commercial product commonly used in offices to control the sprawl of computer cables and power cords. Stripped bare, the cladding’s modular patterns resembled the marble geometries of cathedral naves. Two scroll-like lengths of chain mail hung from the ceiling, held aloft by a pulley system weighted down by trolleys bearing chunks of green fluorite. Metal-armature triptychs displayed configurations of a disassembled chandelier, whip antennae, rawhide strips, and pewter disks pockmarked with the molded outlines of plants and amulets. Carts designed to transport chemical barrels were draped with rubber-backed concrete sheets and adorned in neon lights and unfinished telescope lenses. At the base of the carts, partially hidden from view, were rows of flickering liquid candles, suggesting that these amalgams of industrial elements served as altars for a new kind of deity.

The work here possessed a passing resemblance to sculptures by any number of artists currently allegorizing the enhancement of the human body through medicine, science, fashion, or design—Rochelle Goldberg, Hannah Levy, and Stewart Uoo come to mind—but Cameron-Weir stands apart for her use of conventions and materials, such as triptychs and chain mail, that evoke archaic ritual or heraldry. In this regard, “strings that show the wind” recalled the early exhibitions of Matthew Barney, where faintly ridiculous mythological allusions were held in check by the implacable rigor of his objects-cum-props. (To date, Cameron-Weir has declined to activate her installations through performance or video, but the latent potential is palpably there.) However, the most apposite point of reference for Cameron-Weir’s work might date back to the mid-1960s and Paul Thek. What pithier encapsulation of her sculptures could there be than “technological reliquaries,” his coinage for the waxwork meat slabs he encased in Plexiglas. The medieval and the modern, the enchanted and the electric, the corporeal and the mechanical—it’s all right there, in those two words.

It might be worthwhile, then, to remember that Thek ultimately couldn’t contain the contradictions of the technological reliquaries, that his work lurched toward grotesque debasements such as The Tomb, 1967, a hippie effigy auguring a messy end to the whole liberal social contract, and on from there into pieces so defiantly kitschy, crude, and bathetic that his early-career success was largely forgotten—until, that is, the effluvia of artists such as Mike Kelley and Kiki Smith forced a generation of critics and curators weaned on the clean lines of Minimalism to recover him as a viable forefather. For now, Cameron-Weir’s sculptures ably balance the contradictions of their own historical moment, where the forward-leaning flux of globalization has somehow led to a longing for medieval times, instantiated as either popular enthusiasm for fantasy genres or populist movements rooted in national myth. The question for Cameron-Weir, and the culture at large, is how much longer that balance can last.