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Review: Mary Kelly illuminates the individual in the face of war

December 06, 2012|By Holly Myers
  • Mary Kelly and Ray Barrie's "Habitus, Type I" (detail), laser-cut acrylic, wire mesh, wood, 30 x 48 x 78 in.
Mary Kelly and Ray Barrie's "Habitus, Type I" (detail),… (Grant Mumford / from the…)

Mary Kelly’s recent work at Rosamund Felsen Gallery frames an epoch — the period from World War II through the Cold War — in a few shrewd conceptual strokes, employing as she often has in her work, the voice of the individual bystander as a mirror to the broader forces of history.

At the center of the show is a pair of stark freestanding sculptures, both titled “Habitus” and made in collaboration with Kelly’s husband, Ray Barrie, that are based on bomb shelters developed in London during the Blitz.

One, designed for backyards, is domed; the other, designed for the home, is roughly the size of a dining room table. Both are inscribed with laser-cut text recounting first-person memories of individuals born at or around the time of the war, with a mirrored floor that reflects the text upward.

Between the visual reverberation of the sometimes wrenching text and the anthropomorphic scale of the structures, which are just big enough to contain a family, the works leave one with a palpable sense of the personal dimension (physical as well as emotional) of geopolitical anxiety.

If “Habitus” embodies the fear of the civilian in the face of war, the show’s other major work, “Mimus,” captures its opposite: indignation and protest. Each of the two large wall-mounted works reproduce in Kelly’s trademark pressed felt a page drawn from the testimony of members of the anti-nuclear organization Women Strike for Peace made before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1962.

Saucy, playful, and willfully insubordinate — the work’s title refers to the genus containing the mockingbird — the testimony illuminates the attempts of these inspiring women to create what was in effect another sort of bomb shelter, one that would protect not merely a family but all of humanity: disarmament.

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B4, Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through Dec. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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