Elaine Cameron-Weir at Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles

By Lindsay Preston Zappas

dressing for altitude, 2017, pewter, stainless steel, leather, sandbags, 113 x 20 x 154 cm. Photo: Veli Matti-Hoikka. Courtesy the artist and Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles

Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles, 17 September – 22 November

A disclaimer in the introduction to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818) reads eerily like our modern ‘opinion expressed’ television warnings. She writes: ‘The opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction’ – almost as if the unborn protagonist were penning himself into being. A text accompanying Elaine Cameron-Weir’s exhibition reads at once like a bad English translation and a concrete poem – grammar and spelling to the wind! In one of the more coherent sentences, Cameron-Weir echoes Shelley’s sentiments of nonhuman self-automation: ‘…I started adjusting a machine in a large room, then at the other end of the room the same machine began to make adjustments to itself’.

Indeed, an eerie sense of the absent body permeates the exhibition, although any sense of whose body it is remains unclear. For example, FOR MAKE ADMIT THIS VOIDE (all works 2017) comprises a rubber (perhaps army surplus) jacket outfitted with leather strapping and steel surgical hardware, each prong holding a humble stone of raw amber. The surgical device seems more a trendy accessory than an obscure, ominous tool for body modification. Markedly, this jacket, like the other suspended sculptures in the room, is suggestive of, yet absented from, the body: a cruciform chainmail is strung up from the ceiling and given pewter body parts and leather harnessing (dressing for altitude); nearby the artist’s feet have been cast in pewter and dangled from a treated leather harness (wave form walks the earth). The feet here, removed from leg or torso, introduce an element of dismemberment that is faithful to the exhibition’s sinister undertones. At their best, Weir’s sculptural assemblages are an uncanny blend of function and ornament.

At moments, the exhibition feels futuristic – musing on sentience and robotics – while elsewhere its aged materials (raw leather, Second World War-era oxygen masks and linens) feel nostalgic. Amidst this alchemical brew of provocations, a flirtation with the psychosexual permeates. The bodies suggested by Cameron-Weir’s sculptures are subject to suspension, bondage, capture and delight. Like in previous bodies of work, the artist uses olfactory stimulus to aid in her bawdy fiction. The unwieldily titled Who you are what looks out from behind you are is the thing that names what transforms…now, look what calms the captive by letting him sniff the perfume, like smell what smells like your masters crotch emits pleasing scents of a labdanum resin that is being slowly warmed on a laboratory heating mantel. Above this device, a moulded swath of leather recalling a Zorro mask dangles, as if to personify this scientific assemblage.

Two wall works included in the exhibition make use of familiar materials – parachute silk, stainless steel, leather – though they seem to function outside of the fiction created elsewhere, speaking more to art history than to narrative. While loosely suggestive of a hide, or splayed animal, bound to the wall, the works read as paintings. Nevertheless the wall pieces allow a rest from the voyeuristic implications of the sculptural work; simple delights come from the formal arrangement of ruching and draping.

The circular and muddied narrative created by Cameron-Weir is less overtly didactic than Shelley’s Frankenstein. Without a clear protagonist, the viewer herself is implicated in the whirlpool of sensuous, steam-punk futurism that seems to revel in pleasure more than warn of impending doom.

From the December 2017 issue of ArtReview