To approach Key-Sook Geum's extravagantly ethereal dress sculptures involves confronting mysteries within familiar forms.
Nothing is more commonplace than clothing, yet Geum takes the very idea of clothing to not just another level, but maybe other dimensions. Her wire-and-bead concoctions play tricks on our perceptions, first by seductively drawing us in with their delicate, diaphanous beauty, and then by taking us on an exploration of what is contained within the structured forms of the garments we take for granted.
This air of mystery may seem surprising since the materials used in these elaborately wrought bead- and wire-mesh forms are obvious for all to see, but their uncanny aura — the near-human presence that imbues each work with personality — is harder to explain.
Part of it has to do with their presentation: Whether suspended and hovering over the floor or placed close to the walls, the interplay of light and shadow, subtly animated by ambient breezes, creates an effect of shimmering dark and light patterns that add another layer to these unexpectedly complex works.
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All of these qualities appear in “Reminiscence in Ice” (pictured). Like a party dress for a fairy princess, “Reminiscence” is instantly familiar for its human scale and the classical female form of its implicit, yet unseen, wearer.
On close inspection, it takes the eye on a magical mystery tour of its meticulous wire-and-bead networks that might suggest the structure of skin cells, human neural networks or even fiber optics. Universal forms are just that, but within this is a unique invisible human presence that seems to breathe or sigh.
The rarefied aura of “Reminiscence” contrasts with the simpler forms of traditional East Asian garments like “Greetings in Gold.” Here the golden aura of the bead-and-wire tunic appears as a charismatic glow emanating from a form reflecting the reverence for simplicity that underlies much East Asian culture, as well as its traditional assertion that all material forms are ultimately illusions, as permeable and immaterial as the air we breathe.
Through Sept. 22. Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 504-525-0518; www.callancontemporary.com.
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