The figures are full of dread and grace in sculptor Sally B. Moore’s show at Howard Yezerski Gallery. Vaulting, contorting, groveling, they balance atop branches, poles, and small platforms. Moore has been making work that evokes peril for years. In recent shows, she places it in the context of climate change.
The nearly life-size “Homo sapiens” stands at the middle of the gallery, hunched over and about to strike a match. Illuminator or arsonist?
The figure is made from brown paper bags. Light a match, and he self-immolates — taking everything down with him, since most of the other works here are made from paper and wood. The piece succinctly captures humanity’s role in climate change, and the paradox of progress. We thought we were lighting a candle as we plundered the earth to develop energy. It turns out we might have been better off adapting to the darkness.
Moore’s figures have some of the emotionally tortured twistiness of Rodin’s and the nervous attenuation of Giacometti’s. But she sets her figures’ chronic inner disequilibrium against the natural world.
In “Encounter,” one comes face to face with a lion. The man may be terrified — he squats protectively, bowing his head and holding his hands on his shoulders. He, too, is fragile, made of paper. As is the lion, with a mane of hemp twine.
But this does not appear to be a doomed encounter. The lion is calm. He looks curious. “Encounter” doesn’t fit the old formula in which either man conquers nature or nature conquers man. Instead, it raises questions: Is the man cowering or bowing? Is this a metaphor for how humanity ought to approach nature?
The starkest work here, “Australia,” is made of wood and paper clay, a hybrid material. In a sobering reference to recent wildfires, a slumped figure carries a kangaroo in his arms. Both are scorched black atop a spindly charred wooden stand, with blackened branches at its base.
Moore’s cautionary sculptures convey humanity’s courage, culpability, and inadequacy. We have big hearts, big minds, and terrible long-term planning. The more we grow inured to teetering at the edge of the climate abyss, the more likely we are to fall in.
SALLY B. MOORE: TEETERING
At Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Feb. 12. 617-262-0550, www.howardyezerski.com