Coral Lambert, Starry Starry Night, 2019. Still from video documentation of Lambert’s molten cast iron performance at dusk on site at Salem Art Works.

Coral Lambert


NE Sculpture Gallery|Factory

Equal parts grit and fantasy, “Alternate Worlds” (on view through June 12, 2021) is Coral Lambert’s response to life in the time of a pandemic. The show consists of recent cast iron and bronze sculptures, photographs, prints, and a video projection that collectively function in the seemingly liminal space between “twilight and dreams.” Lambert describes this transitional world, effectively evoked by the gallery’s darkened cocoon-like space, as “a parallel or multi-universe [that] is a hypothetical self-contained plane of existence, co-existing with one’s own. Our sense of time changed in 2020.”

Starry Starry Night, a molten iron and fire event first performed in 2019 and given new resonance during the pandemic, forms the core of “Alternate Worlds.” Inspired by Van Gogh’s painting, Lambert’s work includes a short video, documentary photographs, and 22 cast iron and steel Dawn Stars attached to attenuated staffs. The performance began just before dawn when participants cast the molten iron stars, which were then carried to a hilltop where they were speared, glowing hot, into the earth. As the stars transmogrified into a solid, cold state, the sun rose as if stealing their heat. Of irregular shape and size, the Dawn Stars are marked by coarse, tactile surfaces that explicitly reflect their fiery origins. Snaking through the gallery, they have a residual whiff of Druidic ritual. Both the Starry Starry Night video and photographs underscore the ritualistic aspect of the stars’ formation. The performers’ sunrise march along the hilltop horizon line, glowing stars in hand, channels a scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). 

The “MetaRunes” series embodies a similar “earthly force.” First cast from a 3D printer and then re-cast into bronze, stainless steel, and iron, these hold-in-your-hand-size objects possess a psychologically weighted magic. Each one was first encrypted with a message using a computer modeling program and a virtual ball of clay before being given a title such as MetaRune: Safe Travels and MetaRune: Take Care of Our Planet. With their deft fusion of idea, material, and skill and their mysterious ability to convey the lost time of the last year, the small, compact forms are a highlight of the show.

Covid Earth and Sick Planet I, II, III—four celestial orbs or planets conjured from cast iron, steel, and bronze with applied patina and felt—are more problematic in their resolution. Sick Planet III, retitled Insipid Sun, is a cast iron orb with spiral appendages. Sheathed in squash-orange felt, it demonstrates a magnetic power. Its flocked surface is irresistible to visitors, who can be seen stroking it like a pet—an action that amplifies our lack of touch during the pandemic. The other three planets are embellished with various abstract symbols and forms, as well as meandering passages in pink and blue felt, all meant to convey an unhealthy state or “things being in flux.” Stretched geometric supports, also flocked in felt, seem compositionally at odds with the orbs’ physical weightiness and visual density. Although curiously attractive at first, the incongruous marriage of felt and metal never quite achieves aesthetic or intellectual resolution. 

Crying Eye Hazard Left and Crying Eye Hazard Right, discrete triangular, wall-mounted works that function as a diptych, have open elliptical centers depicting a reticulated eye of cast metal with flame-like embellishments. The eye-pyramid symbol, known as the Eye of Providence, also appears on the U.S. $1 bill and is associated with Freemasonry. Left’s eye floats above a red felt center, while Right’s floats above a green felt center. The eyes, each crying a drooping tear of metal, are surrounded by applied reliefs of snakes, spirals, fire, and the human figure. For Lambert, these works embody hopes and dreams, memory, fragility, and vulnerability.

“Alternate Worlds” is an associative exhibition whose parts are more successful than the whole. Viewers leave with individual thoughts and memories of a year that often dragged us through the mud and made us walk over hot coals. Lambert’s willingness to assemble such a show, and transport it to Minneapolis, is a feat significant unto itself. The Dawn Stars and the “MetaRunes” series are a triumph of simplicity and directness. They do not pretend to be anything other than what they are. So must we.

Fifty percent of the proceeds from the sale of Lambert’s work supports the Social Justice project, spearheaded by NE Sculpture Gallery / Factory, which mounts rooftop, artist-conceived billboards at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis. In July, the third iteration of three works will be installed.