Culture- ART FEATURE- Industrial strength: Jane South's construction sights

You're probably seen Charles Ebbets' 1932 photograph "Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper." Eleven construction workers sit side by side on a girder high above New York City, feet dangling as they casually chat and catch a smoke. A large cable anchored by a pulley cuts through the right foreground as the city recedes toward a smoggy horizon. For me the image captures the nostalgic American dream of industry, a dogged belief that "if we build it, prosperity will come."

Although abstract, Jane South's two large wall sculptures, the highlights of her current Second Street Gallery exhibition, "Infrastructures," recall the promise of Ebbets' photograph. Constructed of paper the artist has inked, cut, folded, and glued, the works reflect industrial scenes that first intrigued South when she moved from the open desert of Roswell, NM to Brooklyn.

Girders, suspended cages, grates, circular shapes like Ferris or hamster wheels, hooks, grills, vents, oblong windows with diagonal bars– every element hatched and crosshatched with tiny marks that add dimension– accrete in carefully balanced orchestration to yield elaborate three-dimensional constructions that seem to expand almost organically across and out from the walls. South's background in set design, which no doubt required building countless paper maquettes, shows in her mastery of space and perspective. As the viewer changes vantage points, the sculptures continually reveal new facets and surprises.

Using precise lighting, South extends her pieces via the shadows they cast, and she cleverly toys with people's perceptions by mixing inked-in shadows with real ones. She also creates three-dimensional op-art effects by having viewers look through cutout parallel bars onto other series of parallel bars running in different directions.

For her large works, South's palette consists of grays, blacks, browns, and rusty reds inked with white and black marks (although her untitled "Long Gray Construction" gets a jolt from a small cobalt blue round at one end). Her two smaller "fragments," however, zing with cadmium yellow and cobalt blue, respectively. In addition to her sculpted constructions, South displays several new drawings on handmade paper, each taking fragments of her three-dimensional pieces back into the two-dimensional realm. 

By creating a conversation between interior and exterior spaces and combining arced elements with hard-angled geometric lines, South imbues her architectural pieces with an Industrial-Revolution-meets-Art-Nouveau early 20th century sensibility. Her complex yet empty cages of layered and interrelated components feel tied to an era when skyscrapers were new and the sky was the limit.

"Jane South: Infrastructures" is on view at Second Street Gallery through May 26. 115 Second St. SE (in the Charlottesville City Center for the Arts). 977-7284.