Wilshire Center

Yolande McKay is an alchemist turned sculptor. Using archaic words dredged up from defunct dictionaries and base materials like soap scum, she makes art from chemistry while exploring the fragile nature of permanence. Most pieces are glass-sealed containers of concrete-covered fiberglass that resemble lead sarcophagi. Inside are powdered metals, oxides and chemicals that react over time producing subtle colors or crystallized crusts. Sandblasted across the glass lids are bits of technical jargon like “subject to spontaneous combustion” or “Engram: lasting trace left in memory” that hint at intellectual as well as physical destruction.

The sealed containers are haunting, dense with sensory allusions to death and continuance. But McKay’s installations in the front gallery prove to be the most involving. For “Lustration” (an old term meaning “ritual cleansing”), the artist suspended small rubber bags filled with water above soap-impregnated rags wrapped around the gallery banister. The bags are heavy, skin-like forms that invite soft caresses. But contact causes gravity to pull water slowly through the rubber so the bag will weep onto the soapy bandages below. This causes a white scum to drip onto panels on the floor leaving a slimy residue that slowly dries to a whitish stain marking the chemical chain of events and human intervention.

McKay’s work with alchemical residue has much in common with Cameron Shaw’s sealed milk bottles of ink and gesso that hint at fading immortality, but her approach is more process oriented. The faint touch of activity gives the work an interesting dynamic. These pieces are able to speak of endurance more than death and suggest the past moving into present and beyond. (Richard/Bennett Gallery, 830 N. La Brea Ave., to Oct. 7.)