Lisa Melandri and Christine Corday

Lisa Melandri, executive director of the Contemporary Art Museum, and sculptor Christine Corday with Corday’s exhibit “Relative Points.” | photo by Dickson Beall

In Relative Points, the exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), sculptor Christine Corday pricks awareness of time, space, process and form.

Corday is known for her monumental sculptures in outdoor public spaces. Like artists James Turrell and Michael Heizer’s large scale works, her projects often require extended time to complete. National September 11 Memorial architect Michael Arad selected her for the iron-oxide application of a 15,000-square-foot patina on the bronze parapets of inscribed names, surrounding the memorial’s two waterfall pools. Yet, this exhibition at CAM marks the first time Corday’s large-scale work is installed within gallery walls.

The artist’s process in creating this exhibition at CAM involved working with engineers to compress 10,000 pounds of iron and metalloid grit into 12 cylinders, using natural forces to produce these massive forms. One end of each form has a flat gritty surface and the other comes to a gentle point.

The 12 individual sculptures are installed in the gallery, pointing in different directions — with a nod and a wink to the relativity in humankind’s knowledge of time, space and the center of the universe, ever changing with new discoveries and points of view.

Corday is a classical pianist, a writer and an artist who also is educated in astrophysics. In late winter 2015, she learned of an emerging scientific project to create a miniature momentary star on Earth — important for the material sciences and the study of how stars forge their power and crucial to advancing fusion science, preparing the way for the fusion power plants of tomorrow.

Corday’s fascination with elemental matter, and her conviction that art should be involved in this significant scientific endeavor, prompted her to seek participation. Corday contacted the scientists and is now involved in creating parts for ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a multinational project located in southern France.

Thirty-five nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device, designed to establish fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy, based on the same principle that powers our sun and stars.

Corday considers temperature and pressure to be the hammer and chisel of the cosmological scale. Like other minimalists, such as Richard Serra with whom she is often compared, she seeks to find the simplest form within the form and is driven to get her hands on the medium within the medium. The tools of heat and pressure allow her to reach beyond the surface of a thing, toward its most primary statement, its raw and changeless identity.

Corday’s art invites interaction with the most elemental of materials, suspended in time and space for reflection, contemplation and awe. We are challenged to enter a true physical relationship with these elements, especially by engaging the sense of touch — which may be the sense that most significantly involves head, heart and mind.

So forget the oft-heard museum command “Do Not Touch” and, by all means, interact with and touch the surfaces of these sculptures — scratch your back on the gritty end of the cylinders, if you like. Allow your eyes to dance over the forms, randomly following those points through a quark-y direction-less space. Fortify yourself within the inner iron-clad structures of the museum architecture, while also imagining yourself as the medium of stardust, communicating all possibilities into the infinite.

Christine Corday: Relative Points runs through April 21 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Blvd. Learn more online at camstl.org.