London-based artist Amba Sayal-Bennett's exquisite drawings don't constitute the centerpiece of her show at the new Yve YANG Gallery, but they are seminal.
Small abstractions in ink and graphite such as "Crab Bucket" thrum with familiarity. Crisp lines make it diagrammatic. Symmetrical and frontal, it looks totemic and has the unmistakable echo of a head and shoulders. Tiny, imprecise flourishes offer the barest suggestion of — could it be? pictures! — and remind us of the artist's hand. Other drawings mix in tools of measurement.
Is it a face? An icon? A symbol? A scale? The more Sayal-Bennett adds in, the more threadbare the connections between signs and referents grow, and the more she scrambles our brains.
The artist raises the stakes with three ambitious projections. Overhead projectors sit in the center of the gallery, shining composite photos on the walls — images of tools assembled into forms similar to those in the drawings, but less delicate and more B-movie sci-fi — clinical, gleaming, and brawny.
Sayal-Bennett's use of photography tethers us more tightly to reality, even though her compositions foil efforts to identify exactly what we're looking at. With a drawing, my imagination roams and embraces possibilities. With the composite photo in "Nethrop," my mind works to identify what I see, and gets stuck there.
With the analog projectors, bits and bobs added on the wall in tape and cardboard, and imagery right out of Home Depot, the installation has a scruffy, DIY-vibe. Had Sayal-Bennett done it all on a computer, she might have more effectively swept us into another world.
But the artist uses her space brilliantly. The image spills onto the floor, where flaps of cardboard magnify and skew the projection, bumping a 2-D image into 3-D.
Sayal-Bennett sets a tougher challenge for herself with the projections, which don't stir up the froth of possibility her drawings do. They are, with their spatial trickery, their retro-futuristic tilt, and their defiance of digital magic, going somewhere. They're not there yet.
AMBA SAYAL-BENNETT: DIFFRACTION METIS
At Yve YANG Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Sept. 30. 617-834-5356, www.yveyang.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@cmcq.