Ballast-G

"Ballast" by Zarouhie Abdalian.

How did we get here? We are at a point where a weird alchemy of digital and financial technology has created a massive identity crisis for much of America as resilient cities adapt to rapid change while some rural and industrial areas seem left behind due to challenges posed by automation and robotics.

Traditional notions of work, self-worth and wealth are explored in this “Production” exhibit of New Orleans native Zarouhie Abdalian's sculpture inspired by hand tools in particular and labor in general. She celebrates humble objects by reducing them to their essence, as in “Joint IX,” where a drafting compass, box wrench and industrial shears appear in a conical, zenlike arrangement held in place by gravity. Their mirror finishes radiate an ethereal quality of light that evokes the aura of self-worth that once ennobled workers who now often feel sidelined by widespread workplace changes.

The sheer weight of material objects lent gravitas to the labor required to work with them and the imprint of that labor is seen in a series of bas reliefs reflecting the force of the sharp extraction tools used at a Mississippi chalk mine. Each is a contemplative aesthetic object as well as a mini-monument to the miners whose labor subjected them to dire respiratory health hazards. In “Hull” (pictured), a ballast stone used to stabilize the weight distribution of merchant sailing ships is ensconced on a gold-plated square of sheet metal with upthrust corners that suggest delicate lotus petals as well as the impact of collisions involving heavy objects.

Nearby, barely visible stitching on a wall-size “Banner” reads, “Let living labor live/ Let dead labor die,” an oddly poetic quote from Karl Marx, who never anticipated the zombie labor of modern digital robotics. A low-key yet widely exhibited local artist whose work has appeared in the Whitney, Berlin, Shanghai, Moscow and Istanbul biennials, Abdalian brings a subtly expansive perspective to the paradoxes of our time as we try to cope with rapidly evolving technologies that often appear mired in unintended consequences.

Through Feb. 10, 2019. Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., (504) 528-3800; www.cacno.org.