Escape looks out of the question for the ghostly, droopy-headed figure hanging from the ceiling. It seems to carry the weight of the world, with fluttering, plantlike wings on its back that appear too small to keep it aloft. White bristles sprout from every pore of the haunting body, looking both delicate and dangerous.
To artist Casey Curran, the piece “We spoke like this to remember” represents an alternative scenario of life on Earth, after humans are gone. Nature has taken over.
But what kind of nature is it? Science fiction, environmental science and philosophy collide affectingly throughout “Escaping Earth,” Curran’s first show at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Most of the works are mechanized, with gears set in motion by viewers. Their flowers are essentially analog robots.
“Anchor of Janus” is an exception — a monumental, asteroid-inspired sculpture named for the two-faced Roman god of gates. Its kinetic feature is that it casts dramatic shadows, designed with open metalwork based on the sacred geometry of religious architecture. That association also suggests something about human innovation.
As shiny and imposing as the big piece is, Curran’s miniature worlds of complex, moving parts capture the most real estate in my imagination. Whirring and clicking quietly when they’re activated, their blooming parts are made mostly of laser-cut Dura-lar, a polyester film that’s tougher than it seems.
There are flowers sprouting from the pelt of a white chicken that looks both angelic and creepy. Another piece takes the form of a scaffold structure that seems to have been overtaken by a garden of black blossoms. This glam, goth object made me think of an oil derrick. But, hey, I’m from Houston. The label explains that Curran’s “Dark Garden” was inspired by the rapid growth of Seattle, where he lives and sees “industry fusing with nature” as the environment expands.
Most spectacularly, the entrance wall holds “Cyclical Foundation,” an eerie landscape of lacy white organic forms that waft like they might be underwater as their tips open and close, pulled by slender filaments of brass. The flowers conjure a fresh universe within a blackened grid of cross-shaped forms that call to mind, for now, the burned forests of Australia.
Whatever they might mean to you, Curran’s objects of wonder are curiously engaging and enigmatic. They’re beautiful, but not particularly hopeful.
The labels offer a different, more practical level of engagement, but the best way to experience Curran’s art might be simply to step in close, watch, listen and let your mind roam.
“Escaping Earth” is up through March 29 at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main; free; 713-529-4848, crafthouston.org .