Chronologically, the Constructions come first. These sculptures were executed around a decade ago. At the time the artist must have been especially attuned to the mysterious mechanisms of the human body: She was pregnant and her mother was dying of cancer. Small photographs form the focal point of each Construction: frail hands, brittle flowers, flimsy tissues, scarred flesh. Black thread, brass and steel support the photos, holding them steady for an array of brutal-looking instruments to act on them. Pry blades, plumb bobs, nasal probes and bonsai shears all seem poised to destroy what remains of those memories.
"Green Tea" and detail (below).
In “Sebastian,” an image of the martyr is cut, creased and pinched at the crotch by a jumper cable clamp. But anyone who’s watched The Surgery Channel knows that sometimes horrifying operations yield miraculous results. Rigged up with two tiny c-clamps and some weather-beaten pliers, two hands, reanimated, gesture once again in “Sisters.” Two decorative picks, usually reserved for wrestling the meat out of pecans, work on the improbable job of fly-tying a broken light bulb’s filament in “Green Tea.” It’s left for the viewer to judge whether these pieces represent noble last-ditch efforts or obscene insults to nature’s order.
The still lifes that comprise the Ambivalence series are simple, elegant and beautiful. Each isolates a pale, smooth, organic shape against an unassuming backdrop. But these are prosthetic devices, not merely nods to Noguchi. Garvens photographed the objects while they were being built, effectively suspending them between an ideal form and one uniquely suited to fit one person.
Sometimes it is clear how the item will serve, sometimes not. The titles are poetic rather than illuminating this question. “Map” seems to capture the perfectly smooth hips and torso of a pharaoh. “Spotting” resembles a fingertip. I’ll bet only an insider could identify “White” and “Blue.” By obscuring their workaday purpose, Garvens encourages us to concentrate on the symbolic role of these things: to make life easier, to alleviate pain, to stand in, however inadequately, for what is gone forever.
Prosthesis will be on display until March 5. A reception will be held on Thursday, Jan. 29, 5 p.m., at Light Work Gallery, located in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center, 316 Waverly Ave. The Light Work galleries are free and open to the public Sundays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for Syracuse University holidays, and by appointment. Visit www.lightwork.org or call 443-1300 for more information.