Sacramento artist Dave Lane’s internal exploration
It’s a steampunk dream. Crossing the threshold of the Richard L. Nelson Gallery, there is an immediate and overwhelming sense of being crowded out at the first step inside. The space is filled, floor to ceiling, with massive, rusted steel vessels that look like Victorian-era inventions perhaps intended to explore life beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It looks as if it could’ve been the workshop of Phileas Fogg, had he needed to find a way out of this world in 80 days.
But this is not the work of a Jules Verne character. It’s Out in Space: Sculptures, Drawings, Paintings by Dave Lane. The Sacramento artist’s work is about exploration, especially the internal kind. In addition to the approximately 14 tons of oxidized machine parts—much of it from old farming equipment—that comprise his towering sculptures, the walls of the gallery are occupied by grids of more than 100 framed “maps,” as well as a series of miniature dioramas. In an adjoining room, there are even more framed mixed-media pieces on the wall, and a 700-pound “lamp” sculpture suspended from the ceiling.
Crowded? Definitely. Some may even argue that there are too many items in a comparatively limiting space. “Heart of Gold,” a 12.5-foot-tall, intricate, cagelike structure on casters, with light bulbs dangling from its top of four horizontal steel wheels and a tiny Plexiglas box of secrets nestled in its spike-protected center, tickles the gallery’s ceiling. But, surprisingly, it’s not even the largest structure in the space.
Further compounding the overwhelming wealth of information within this show are other oddities, like that Plexiglas box in “Heart of Gold” in which Lane, a former engineer and cartographer, writes philosophies and narratives in tiny handwriting—and often at length. It’s an integral part of his artwork. Because of the contrast of massive and miniature, the overall effect is psychologically powerful. The viewer feels dwarfed by the structures, then giant facing the framed work, then small again upon examining the ideas about naturalism, the unknown and loss: Out in Space becomes a general investigation of the mind.
Lane’s work is complicated, cramming loads of information and introspection in each piece, revealing his thought processes with language, and dotting them with symbolism. Each piece has a history and a new story, all utilizing multiple layers of materials. For as much as he reveals in his words, under the layers, secrets are concealed, awaiting an explorer to delve into them. How long would it take for a viewer to read the words on the giant plastic sphere of “Grandma Planet” to learn that it’s an account of “something horrible that happened” to people who were “abandoned on a planet being built”? And would the viewer know if he crawled through the sculpture and into the sphere, on the inside of the globe is written what the people found out?
“Secrets are sort of like the enemy,” Lane says. And they can implode on themselves, such as “A Device for Creating Stars,” a 14-foot imploding bomb, he describes.
“I call it a weapon of mass creation,” he says of the astronomical thing, which in theory, would blow up inward like a giant gas cloud to create stars. Constructed from an antique gas tank, a light illuminates its porthole, with beautifully contrasting silver bolts holding its rusted joints together, as are also used on the other vessels.
The overall aesthetic hearkens back to the 19th century, when science and advancements in technology were rapidly surging forward due to the Industrial Revolution. Lane’s fascination with art and science is a major influence on his work, as is his penchant for philosophy (though he often self-deprecatingly jokes that his geeking out on science and philosophizing may make him sound “crazy” to others).
It seems that Lane’s work barely fits into the gallery’s space, but he thinks “a show should have more in it than [the viewer] can take in in one visit.” With dozens of machines and hundreds of maps into Lane’s mind to explore, it definitely necessitates a double take.