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In mesmerizing photograms, a ghostly dance of metaphors

In mesmerizing photograms, a ghostly dance of metaphors
Mary Beth Heffernan's cyanotype photogram from the series "Blue" at Sloan Projects in Santa Monica. (Courtesy the artist and Sloan Projects)

Photographer and sculptor Mary Beth Heffernan has had an abiding interest in skin -- as identifying surface, as delimiting membrane and as evocative metaphor.

In "Blue," her mesmerizing series of cyanotype photograms at Sloan Projects in Santa Monica, a man's suit and a woman's dress are the skins in play. These spectral garments are surrogate souls, characters in a dance both intimate and emblematic.

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Heffernan excised the suit's solids, leaving only the seams, and she had the dress made from diaphanous fabric. For the 10 pieces in the 2011 series (five are on view here) she posed the clothing on 8-foot-high sheets of photo-sensitive paper.

Light darkened the surrounding areas to a luscious deep blue and seeped through the thin gown, yielding images of white, frayed-edge skeleton entwined with slithery ghost.

The dress reads as aqueous -- a drifting jellyfish -- one moment and a fragile, rumpled spirit the next. The suit's postures bring to mind Robert Longo's 1979 drawings of "Men in the Cities," frozen with backs arched and limbs akimbo.

In one piece, the personages unite in a twisted jumble, a cyclone down the length of the sheet. The "Blue" series resonates as well with the power of Floris Neusüss' full-body photograms, tempered by the delicacy of Anna Atkins' mid-19th century cyanotypes of botanical and aquatic specimens.

Heffernan makes especially poetic use of the photogram's nature as physical trace, akin here to sloughed-off skin.

Sloan Projects, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (424) 744-8625. Through Oct. 17. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.sloanprojects.com

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