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Galleries

A world projected through ritual

Bühler-Rose’s lens stands in for the viewer’s eye

Michael Bühler-Rose’s “Removing the Evil Eye,’’ a C print from his exhibit “I’ll Worship You, You’ll Worship Me’’ at Carroll and Sons. Michael Bühler-Rose’s “Removing the Evil Eye,’’ a C print from his exhibit “I’ll Worship You, You’ll Worship Me’’ at Carroll and Sons.
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / November 24, 2010

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Both art and ritual can be devotional. Both give form to the intangible. Michael Bühler-Rose’s exhibit at Carroll and Sons explores distinctions between the two, and in doing so demonstrates how deeply they are also connected.

The show begins with two photos in the gallery’s entryway. The title of “Removing the Evil Eye’’ suggests a cleansing ritual; the image is of a hand holding a turmeric-dusted coconut with a flame burning at its top. The second, “Camphor Flame on Pedestal (0432),’’ puts a fire in a gallery setting, suggesting a passage between ritual and art, and preparing the viewer for what’s to come.

That would be “Black by the Light of the Sun,’’ a video projection. In it, the artist’s hand pats white camphor powder on a sheet of creased dark paper, then holds a magnifying glass over it until the camphor ignites. The fire starts small, but it accelerates into a conflagration, covering the screen. It’s gorgeous and alarming; there’s a suggestion of being consumed by flame. For spiritual purposes, that might represent a union with, or message from, the divine.

But let’s examine the artier purposes. Bühler-Rose cannily deploys his camera as a stand-in for the viewer; the camera lens is like the viewer’s eye, a screen between the inner and outer worlds. In his second video, the four-channel projection “I’ll Worship You, You’ll Worship Me,’’ he again uses that metaphor.

The four projections circle the viewer. A priestly figure in a saffron shawl moves from wall to wall, coating a transparent screen with fluids: water, juices, yogurt. Our view of him is obscured by drips and smears; the image becomes painterly. I thought of how a painting’s surface can refer to skin, another boundary between self and other. In the end, the priest swabs the screen, clearing our view. Press materials say the piece explores a Hindu theory in which worshiper and deity regard one another. Certainly, it induces the sense of being blocked off and then received.

Looking at art is inherently contemplative, which makes any gallery a kind of chapel. “I’ll Worship You, You’ll Worship Me’’ speaks to a nuanced exchange, because it engages the viewer as the object of a ritual, even as he or she stands back to experience the art.

Tiny complexes I wanted to press my nose right up against the works in “On the Mark,’’ a group show at Steven Zevitas Gallery featuring drawings made with itty-bitty gestures. The piece “Circle and Line NOF,’’ by the granddaddy of the micro-mark, Jacob El Hanani, is covered in circles the size of soda bubbles and lines the length of 5-o’clock-shadow stubble that add up to a plane of flitting shadows and odd breaths of air. It’s a wonder how these artists have the control to make such small marks.

Julie Miller has several works at the center of the show. Previous pieces swam mainly in one palette; now she’s creating multicolored patterns. She, too, works in champagne-fizz circles. The work “o(32)’’ looks like two Persian carpets laid side by side, each with bubbling borders and fringed edges. The deliciously complex “o(42)’’ loops strings of red and pink, like beaded necklaces, over a pattern of stripes, all held within a jigsaw-puzzle assortment of shapes.

Then there’s Daniel Zeller’s “Glomic Concession,’’ a mutant organism formed out of scallop-shell shapes and mazes of yellow and white. In all the works here, the emphasis is on accretion — there’s a sense that when these artists first put pen or pencil to paper, they don’t have a clue what will gather under their hands. The process of drawing, not some preconditioned idea, gives birth to these fantastical and surprising works.

Confronting emptiness Organic clashes with man-made in Rosalyn Driscoll’s rawhide sculptures at Boston Sculptors Gallery. “Bone Flux’’ has the almost golden, translucent hide draped over the mirrored edges of a large cube. It’s an odd juxtaposition; the rawhide ripples like sand or water, threatening to overtake the cube by force or erosion, but the cube stands firm. In “Emptiness of Fire,’’ a white neon tube snakes like a sunlit river through an open cocoon of rawhide, suggesting something electric inside.

“Anatta’’ is the most disturbing piece, a rusty steel case fitted with glass shelves upon which a human form takes shape in rawhide: crumpled head, splayed arms, the cup of a pelvis. It’s half museum display, half cold storage, and the central figure looks almost gone. The title is a Buddhist term for no-self, and this sculpture is indeed a confrontation with emptiness.

Also at Boston Sculptors, Sally S. Fine’s ceramic figurative tableaus err on the side of whimsy. They are magic realist scenes, but many need a darker edge. I did enjoy “Hooked,’’ in which a woman reading in a dory is dragged up the wall by two giant fishhooks under her arms. Many of Fine’s figures are reading; in “Coordinates (Boats/Books/Readers),’’ several are suspended from the ceiling on open books. But books are only portals to the imagination; I want to see more of what’s inside.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at cmcq@speakeasy.net.

MICHAEL BÜHLER-ROSE: I’ll Worship You, You’ll Worship Me At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 22. 617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net

ON THE MARK At: Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 11. 617-778-5265, ext. 22, www.stevenzevitasgallery.com

ROSALYN DRISCOLL: Natural Light SALLY S. FINE Stories: Time and Place At: Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 12. 617-482-7781, www.bostonsculptors.com