The ouroboros, an ancient symbol composed of a snake or dragon eating its own tail, is central to 11 recent sculptures by New York-based Canadian artist Elaine Cameron-Weir in her solo debut at Venus Over Los Angeles.
Sculptural snakeskins, 14 feet long and made from beautifully enameled copper scales affixed to 15-inch-wide strips of metal screen, are strung up to the rafters on pulleys and held in place by heavy sandbags on the floor, like theatrical flats. These hanging snake sculptures manage to skin the perpetual ritual of cyclical death and rebirth that an ouroboros implies.
She dubs her show "snake with sexual interest in own tail," which suggests a bit more commitment to the here and now as a source of visceral pleasure. Alchemists sought an escape from the tail-swallower's endless, eternal loop; Cameron-Weir apparently does too.
Alchemy turns up again in assemblage sculptures that look like dubious experiments in a scientist's lab. Bunsen burners cook frankincense on thin slivers of mica affixed to metal rods, themselves edged in squiggly tubes of blue neon and reflected in rearview mirrors. Six are clamped to a long, curved adobe wall, while four stand on eccentric lab tables made from terrazzo in the shape of butterfly wings. They're like 18th-century science-fantasy paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby, modernized as sculpture.
The most compelling piece suspends a crumpled jacket made of lead, its pieces wired together, over a shiny hydrotherapy tub filled with gritty sand rather than soothing water. There will be no restorative healing done here, no base lead transformed into dazzling gold or broken body made whole.
Instead, there are only inventive forms made from eccentric materials, which Cameron-Weir plainly likes. That seems to be quite enough.
Venus Over Los Angeles, 601 S. Anderson St., (323) 980-9000, through April 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.venusovermanhattan.com