Elaine Cameron-Weir on Halves, Pairs, and Symmetry

Oct 4, 2019 11:18 am

Over the last decade, Elaine Cameron-Weir has made sculptures and installations that seamlessly incorporate industrial objects with natural and hand-crafted ones, often using metal, a material at home in all three categories. Her first show with New York’s JTT Gallery, “strings that show the wind,” is on view through October 27. It features three pairs of sculptures (all works 2019); the works in each pair are made of similar materials and appear roughly symmetrical. The artist’s shrewd combinations, like chainmail hung from the ceiling that drapes onto modular metal flooring with regular perforations designed to provide access to cables running underneath, render familiar objects uncanny. When these elements are detached from their function and presented at an unconventional scale, it is often difficult to guess their weight and origin. Below, the artist discusses her interest in the more elusive qualities of symmetry—the territory between an opposite and a complement—and tells stories of unexpected uses of material, like aluminum foil on space probes.

Together, the titles of the works in this show comprise a poem I wrote. One piece in a pair of sculptures is called: it thought you were someone else it thought you were me bounded by strings in the distorted phases of a topological superfluid a mysterious density half-speed vortices and long walls. I typically take my titles from my own writing—I treat writing like my equivalent of sketching. I wrote the poem while working on this show; it’s not really “about” the work, but rather part of the work.

The second sculpture in the pair is titled 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. This pair is inspired by a strange object I saw on the street in Tokyo this past winter. It was like a sign in that its function was to draw people into a shop. It had lights around the edges, but it didn’t have words, and I’m not sure what they were even selling. I became obsessed with this thing. I wanted to almost recreate it, and yet my version is very different.

The center of the sculptures contain glass lenses that my dad made—he’s a retired farmer. He cast them while trying to make a telescope, but they have little flaws in them, which are only revealed when he grinds them down. He’s self-taught and uses a homemade grinder, attempting to get a perfect form with an imperfect process that he has been working on for years. The lenses are draped in concrete fabric, a flexible textile that hardens when you add water. Then, I placed the apostrophe-shaped sculptures on carts that I modified. The sculptures are fragile and rather heavy, but they’re also on wheels, which gives them a false sense of portability.

The object in Tokyo was chained to a pole; mine is chained to the cable management system that I used to cover the gallery floor. This metal infrastructure is typically installed to organize large amounts of electrical wires in offices, libraries, or schools, though it’s usually not visible: it gets covered in carpet or another kind of flooring. I was drawn to this particular configuration because it resembles ceiling tiles or parquet flooring.

I went to the Alberta College of Art and Design, where my education was really craft-based: it taught me how to make things on my own, which I’m really grateful for. I took a jewelry course there, and I find that I’m often scaling up jewelry techniques like welding and soldering to make sculptures. I always like to make it unclear whether I made, modified, or found elements of my work.

I was thinking about other forms of symmetry before making sculptures in pairs for this show. It began with giant clamshells I worked with in 2014. Since the clamshells I use come from an endangered species, it was really hard to find two halves of the same shell. I could get one secondhand, but the other would be somewhere else in the world. For this show, I cleaved a stone in half then polished its surfaces for the piece but it knew her still somehow by the strings that show the wind impoverished things decorate these tunnels yet it dreams of wires always in a scatter radar memoir—and also its pair, the face on the tip of the tongue its hum next to me underground the wind comes and is seen heralded by strings these devices of measure tracks and life activities in the fossil record symmetries to the physical world. Amazingly, after cutting the fluorite, I learned that the mineral is often used to make lenses for microscopes and telescopes. It was a wild coincidence—an unexpected, additional pair. This fluorite is even the same muted aqua as my dad’s glass lenses, though the mineral can be many different colors.

I’m often drawn to objects with recognizable functions, then I infuse them with an element of mystery—like the elusive sign in Tokyo. If you look closely, you’ll find familiar materials like carabiners and stainless-steel foil in we all go to work by proxy but it dreams of wires and it was setting the sun it thought it had lost everything but then it found you instead and it woke up laughing and its pair. Similarly, I used a pulley system and fluorite counterweight to hang two chainmail banners: the system is adjustable and convenient for hanging, and you can see the pulleys’ purpose immediately. But the fluorite sits atop trolleys with their breaks on, evoking a kind of misunderstanding: do the counterweights stay still and do their job? Are the banners as heavy as the fluorite? It’s hard to tell with chainmail, which is both metal and airy—full of holes, yet used as armor to block blades.

Throughout, I was thinking about how opposition and reflection are sometimes one in the same. Two of the pairs contain both candle flames and neon lights. In the pair structured by laboratory lattices, stainless-steel foil reflects and amplifies the light of a liquid candle. I had read about probes that were sent to Jupiter in 2017: NASA had to wrap them in aluminum foil at the last minute, since the magnetic fields were suddenly stronger than expected. They bought huge amounts of kitchen-grade foil, and amazingly, it worked. We got our first close-up shots of Uranus and Neptune, their moons and rings, thanks to aluminum foil.

—As told to Emily Watlington