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The Solipsist - a work of colored glass and steel - part of the exhibit The Solipsist and the Other by Jayne Lawence. The artist formed the gown by wrapping a curvaceous friend in flame-retardant material, and welding a steel frame around her. Photo by Mark Greenberg
Jayne Lawrence's exhibits her new work in 'The Solipsist and the Other' at REM Gallery

On the surface, beauty is the subject of Jayne Lawrence's newest work, "The Solipsist and the Other." But the problem of isolation hovers inside the painstakingly constructed, life-size glass-and-metal gown, symbolized by the deceptively strong shell and exacerbated by the postmodern belief in the exceptional nature of one's own experience.

Beauty could also be debilitating to Lawrence's message: the pretty stained glass dress in gorgeous Amazonian proportions appearing, in the artist's most pessimistic moments, as a gigantic decorative floor lamp. Lawrence worries that the sculpture, crafted over the course of three years, is too visually appealing to retain an edge. But the mosaic roses and draped garlands in royal purples and bloody reds have the ambivalent quality of lithographs from an old fairytale book - the version in which Cinderella's stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit the glass slipper - and the warning abides palpably under the enchanting veneer.

Lawrence succeeds in engaging the question implied in the show's title largely because of this tension. In creating a sculpture of familiar confines that is nonetheless impermeable and uninhabitable (she has placed a skeletal scaffolding inside to make it more difficult to imagine yourself in the dress), she asks whether, despite external similarities, we can truly understand another's internal life.

Noon-5pm Saturday,
or by appointment
Through November 8
REM Gallery
816 Camaron #1.08
As her own gauntlet in the face of a pop culture that is heavily self-referential, Lawrence offers a series of clean, minimal drawings, each of the 12 a depiction of a fear or anxiety that she hoped to exorcise through representation. Because she intends these images quite literally as symbols for direct communication, the viewer can ponder for herself a question too often left to semioticians and linguists: How and with what accuracy can ideas be communicated? In present-day America, where icons are increasingly substituted for language, it is still vital to debate whether visual symbols are a more direct and intuitive form of communication - or simply more rudimentary - and therefore more vulnerable to coding and manipulation.

The Czech-Canadian artist Jana Sterbak (best known outside art circles for Generic Man, a photograph of the back of a shaved male head with a bar code imprinted on his neck), is one of Lawrence's acknowledged influences. Like Sterbak, Lawrence is concerned with the constraints placed on our identity when we acquiesce to society's symbolism - for instance, wearing a dress to advertise attractiveness and availability when one's spirit dwells resolutely in dungarees and hiking boots. But Lawrence's work, with its use of the language of beauty and symmetry, seems to concede that not only is some form of collusion necessary, but also desirable. Marshall McLuhan's observation that "the medium is the message" is particularly applicable to Lawrence's show, because her attention to craftsmanship and straightforward presentation signal a belief in the power of universal human experience and transcendent communication. And it is the sincerely manifested belief in this human potential that makes the questions posed by "The Solipsist and the Other" worthwhile and engaging. •

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