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Angels and insects

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Like a taxidermist with a romantic streak, Atlanta artist Lisa Hart uses the often eerie, morbid artifacts of the natural world to summon up the eternal. In her exhibition at the Atlanta Financial Center, Contemplating Memory, Hart employs horseshoe crabs, turtle shells, butterfly wings, feathers, wishbones, human hair and snake skins in an ethereal, poetic language that invests these small relics of an animal or a person's presence with a nearly reverent importance.

Hart adds to that sense of cherished, venerated things by displaying her artworks in reliquary-style shadowboxes that underscore the objects' association with time and life frozen like an entomologist's specimens or an archaeologist's crockery. A favorite strategy is to create a similarly eternal, flowing river of words behind these talismans -- a kind of ambient drone increased by the simplicity of the language Hart uses.

In the -- depending upon your perspective -- tantalizingly or confoundingly open-ended "Reconciliation," Hart seems to broach a kind of truce between Eve and the serpent. The artist has placed within one of her shadowboxes a long rope of a woman's hair next to a shed snakeskin next to a river of words including: choice/struggle/rebellion/transition/growth. All three -- hair, skin, words -- flow in a similar wave to suggest a life's progress.

Hart clearly has a talent for choosing spooky/lyrical materials with intimations of death, like bones, or imbued with traces of a missing human presence, like hair. "Ageless" is one of the instances where that odd choice of materials tends to work in tandem with Hart's message. The artist has juxtaposed twinned evocations of youth and age in startling ways. For youth she has threaded strands of brown hair through a delicate scrap of linen. And for age she has woven bristly white horse hairs through crinkled, browned leather. The piece is disturbing for its resemblance to flayed skin and for the stark distinction Hart draws between strived-for, smooth youth and feared, coarse age.

Equal parts shrine and science, the pretty dead things in Contemplating Memory combine the hushed devotion of the former and the order and control of the latter. Because of that odd relay between cold science and intangible spirit it seems just as likely that some viewers will find Hart's artworks poetic and pleasingly ethereal as others will find them disturbing and oblique.



Contemplating Memory: Works by Lisa Hart runs through March 13 at the Atlanta Financial Center, South Tower, 3333 Peachtree Road. Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-816-9777.

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