The newly renovated Contemporary Arts Center looks more polished than ever, so it may come as a surprise that the lobby gallery currently resembles a vast curiosity cabi- net — or maybe the most meticulous estate sale ever. But a T.S. Eliot quote in Aaron Levi Garvey's curator statement explains everything: "It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves." Although the diverse works in this Ephemera Obscura show demand empathic contemplation, their evocation of the secret life of objects insightfully reflects this city's pervasively soulful yet oddly elusive aesthetic. In a city where altars — Roman Catholic or Voodoo — long have set the tone, the power of ritual objects is taken for granted as even ordinary things sometimes appear charged with mysterious new meanings.
The possible variations are endless, as we see in the MILAGROS collective's populist altar of plastic crustaceans and tacky action figures, and Lorna Williams' assorted plumbing and electrical parts reborn as a skeletal human torso, and Artemis Antippas' bleached chicken bones ritualistically arranged on a cosmic blue-glitter platform. Loren Schwerd's woven thread tapestry spelling out words from chemical and soil hydrology processes recalls Voodoo's talismanic use of hair in a late-industrial incantation of sorts. Even more subtle is Manon Bellet's In Search of a Lost Intimacy, a pair of empty Plexiglas cases that, when opened, release alluringly delicate scents distilled by Swiss perfumers from soil and plant samples taken from endangered local habitats. Carlton Scott Sturgill's Garden of Delights shabby-chic glass shanty cobbled from old windows looks substantial yet ethereal for the way it suggests a trysting place for lusty invisible spirits. Momma Tried's Voynitsky Estate dollhouse is astoundingly detailed right down to the tiny Tom Waits LPs in the den. But the most emblematic of all may be Christopher Alan Lawson's How She Saved Everything (detail pictured) assemblage of doll parts, artificial flowers, filigree, toy soldiers and rosary beads — an outstanding example of the cosmic potential of clutter.