A porcelain brain sits balanced on a scale opposite a large crystal on a Spatium gallery shelf. In the next room, a gold-plated tooth, made from porcelain, sits inside a small antique presentation box.
Those pieces, titled “3 Pounds” and “Heirloom” are pivotal in “Crowns and Nitrous Oxide,” the very personal, yet universal, thought-provoking exhibition by Bri Murphy.
The modeled brain, you see, is accurate to 1 percent of the size of Murphy’s own brain, taken from an MRI and cast in porcelain. The crystal that balances it is there because of a Sigmund Freud notion that the brain and crystals each shatter in predetermined fashion.
Taking that idea literally, Murphy drops a porcelain brain in the looping video performance “Cycle Infinite.” Then, continuing the theme, comes “Self Portrait - Diptych” -- a pair of brains, one titled “Midas” that is covered in gold luster, the second, the intricately hand-carved “Medusa.”
Completing that room is a series of digital prints on aluminum of an MRI profile -- again of her brain -- with geometric patterns imposed over the brain image -- titled “Trigonal Slice.”
That work, which has a strange beauty, is about as personal as art can get. So are the teeth that are the subject matter of the second room --- and inspired the exhibition’s title.
“Heirloom” comes from Murphy’s father, who died when she was 10. He had a mouthful of gold teeth and would joke about not burying him with all that money in his mouth.
But there’s another Freudian connection to the teeth work as well -- his notion that dreaming of teeth falling out is an anxiety dream.
Having suffered from anxiety and drawn to monotonous, labor-intensive work as a kind of therapy -- “Medusa” took more than 100 hours to carve -- Murphy created “Freud’s Dream Therapy,” an ink dream of zillions of tiny teeth made with small lines held in place by hundreds of straight pins.
More playfully, Murphy has placed gold-plated teeth, modeled from her wisdom teeth, into small vials that once contained her medicine. That piece is called “Tiny Dreams,” and each is for sale -- when purchased the buyer initials the space where the tooth and vial sat on a drawing of the layout.
Murphy, a Vermont native moved to Lincoln in 2013 to be an artist in residence at the Lux Center for the Arts after graduating from State University of New York in New Paltz, where she studied ceramics and art history.
Now the Lux gallery director, Murphy made the work in the “3 Pounds” during her residency there and completed all the work in the show since she has been in Lincoln.
That includes a third room of her more recent, experimental pieces that includes an encaustic piece titled “Self Portrait of an Epileptic” complete with EEG readings, a brain with wires called “Monitor,” recalling the testing Murphy has had on her brain and another covered with medical script, “Prescription Brain.”
The anatomical nature of the exhibition has been unsettling for some. But it was what makes Murphy’s art universal and resonant. We all have brains and teeth and can’t not at least consider of the shattering of the former and the loss of the latter -- with all that’s associated with that, including the Freudian concepts Murphy introduces into the discussion.
That makes “Crowns and Nitrous Oxide” a show that lingers in the mind well after leaving the gallery -- evidence of its success as a group of impressively crafted objects and a content-rich, provocative show.
“Crowns and Nitrous Oxide” is the first exhibition in the expanded Spatium, which has moved into about half of the Parrish Project space formerly occupied by Darger HQ.
With about triple the previous wall and floor space, Spatium can now present larger, more ambitious shows -- and picked a perfect starting example with “Crowns and Nitrous Oxide.”
Murphy’s exhibition, one of the best contemporary art shows I’ve seen in Lincoln this year, runs through Friday, when a closing reception will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. See it.