Unpublished, and not edited; written March/April 1978
by Wade Saunders —
Marilynn Gelfman-Pereira’s sculptures are shown in individual Plexiglas boxes. They are thus marked as fragile, having to be protected from our hands, even from our breath. Sculpture is rarely helped by touch: skin acids and oils can damage stone, wood, most metals; pieces can be broken. But touch helps us apprehend things. Her installation forbids touch, because the pieces are fragile, because of security problems, because she wishes to mystify: on touch they would be merely phenomenal, would melt like snowflakes, would turn out to be evanescent. Protected and isolated, tied to the bottoms of their boxes, the sculptures are likely to stay around forever; they suggest specimens displayed in museum cases, fine archaeologies of bone and pin. The boxes enclose rather than engage the sculptures; they make them seem precious.
The pieces derive from the binary oppositions inhering in metal and in wood: chemically formed against biochemically formed, relatively strong against relatively weak, preternaturally straight against approximately straight, applied geometry against native geometry, the fabricated against the fortuitous. Instead of elucidating the materials, her hybridization often trivializes them. For example, branching in trees and shrubs can follow complex mathematical ratios and progressions, trunk to branch to stem to leaf to vein. Her branches have junctures of a certain consistency, have bark, taper, but are not handled as being interesting in themselves. They have been made poor, subjugated like the wire, and are useful mostly as they permit her formal manipulations. The same is true of her use of monel wire. It permits her to make crystal lattices—yes they are regular, yes they fit together nicely—but table salt will tell you that much. Too often her metal and wood, though integrated physically and formally don’t add up.
Her composition is generally geometric. Geometry is purely mental, by definition a line has no width, a point no area. Her work makes geometry delicately explicit. Every wire proceeds from and connects back to vertices. No end is left unattached. As she wishes the wire to suggest crystals this is apt: each real plane must have a limit. In three pieces she forms congruent faceted cones with wire and with sticks.
The wire is the clearer demonstration but there is no fundamental resonance within the pairs. Her technical competence is obvious, but it acts as an impediment more than an aid: the most interesting pieces are made when she is least busy putting her materials through their paces, when, for instance, she lets a single twig bridge two tetrahedrons, 15-78 OK.
Her pieces suggest both the evolution and cross-cultural congruence of knowledge. Cause and effect can be controlled without knowing the mechanism of linkage; things simple to us can embody extraordinary complexity for others. In 26-78 OK she has her wire spring from a single stick so the latter becomes votive, a pipe, a rattle, a thing fusing two qualities and suggesting many. It is not the simple juxtaposition that provokes or promotes the result—she tries it often enough without success—but the particular linkage, the respect. The bones in 16-78 OK and 17-78 OK help her refer because they are connected in the popular mind with magic. The bones make the wire look warm, crafted, felt. She takes a rusted metal grill in 6-78 OK and leaves it look like her sticks, while the sticks somehow mimic wires. The piece has wit. So much thinking must have been done, must be done with sticks that it is nice to see them again regarded, as they are sometimes here, as mnemonically useful, not as a folksy construction material.