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The Boston Globe
December 14, 2006


by Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent

Sculptor Steve Hollinger bites off more thematically than he can chew in "Atomic," his reflections at Chase Gallery on the atomic age . It's nonetheless a remarkable show -- not for its insights, but for its beauty.

Hollinger has always been as much inventor as artist. All of the sculptures here are solar-powered and use polarizing technology to modulate light transmission. It's the same technology used in the 3D movies of the 1950s, Polaroid film, and today's sunglasses.

The sculptor sets his experiments in vintage wooden explosives boxes from the 1940s and '50s. Most feature sheets of polarizing film with light passing through them, in a miraculous cascade of muted colors. Several pieces center on a spherical space that is defined only by a thin belt of film wrapped around its exterior, mimicking the path of an atom's electrons. Colors careen along this beltway with no provocation other than the light waves passing through it. It's captivating.

Other pieces use the same trick -- in "Greenhouse," the rainbow spirals down a vine of filmy buds -- but the effect never palls. Most works don't initially reveal their magic. You have to lean in and really engage with the art, and then you're rewarded with a light show.

The sculptures don't try to come to grips with the power, both destructive and creative, of nuclear energy. Hollinger does offer photographs that wrestle more actively with his subject matter. "Atomic/Red" features a grid of 16 Polaroid emulsions -- that's the thin skin you lift off a Polaroid photo -- that he created from images of atomic tests. The mushroom clouds explode, and the emulsions seem to crumple and shrivel in response, as if they cannot contain the power they're depicting.

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