Amy Nathan’s debut solo exhibition at CULT Aimee Friberg, “Glyph Slipper”, proves her and her work to be adept at slipping in and out of signs and signifiers and pursuing threads of meaning and narrative deftly through a variety of media.

Nathan has chosen a handful of forms—seashells, fingernails, fishing weights, rope, human profiles, bobbie pins—and made them into an alphabet that travels through material embodiments. There are doublings of forms, both in number and, Janus-like, in kind: a bobbie pin becomes a cotter pin, nautical twine becomes a loose thread of yarn from a garment, patterns in sand become waves of hair, barnacles become stars. The artist’s and curator’s statements about the work emphasize thinking about the labor involved in being a woman and, in a way, maintaining gender—the pieces also speak of a fluidity present in all facets of identity.

“Herma II”, named after a feminine version of a Hermes statue—a Roman sculptural form that is often an obelisk shape whose only carved features are the head and genitals of the two-gendered messenger deity—,is a white plaster relief literally incorporating fishing weights and twine knotted in a bow into the suggestion of a woman’s pubic mound and male genitals. It’s beautifully installed low and spotlit in a quiet, dark corner of the gallery behind “Waterline”, a curtain of blue chalk lines whose tracings are echoed on the wall, and which are anchored with fishing weights. This Herma is a marker and guide, but to and from where? Or what? Or whom?

Get close to a piece like “Forever Separated, Forever Attached” and see the shells, the cord with traces of movement, as if it had been dropped on wet sand and pulled by the surf. Then, looking from across the room, notice that it and its traces are also (but not instead of) hair flowing down from a face looking up, the large, deep canvas support surrounding it with drops of water. The water nymph both sinks into geologic and art history and emerges up through the rain against gravity.

“Her Part”, a standout of the show, is one of three freestanding plaster tablets clustered together on a low pedestal, one green, one white, and this, gunmetal on one side and a rusty vermilion on the back. It looks like a frieze that once washed up on a beach and is now dust-covered in a natural history museum, with a figure in rope reminiscent of a horseshoe crab, part fossil, part architectural feature, part ladder, part fetish haute couture accessory. The object seems like a relic of both ancient times and prehistoric times, infusing an already mysterious era with an occult symbolic function. Another of the trio, “Andromeda”, is also shaped like a small headstone and maps a constellation in barnacles, looking both old and freshly cast.

These reliefs and “Brushstroke Shield”, a fragment of stamped tin ceiling warped and partially covering a frame, both have colors sprayed from one side, as in a rain- or snow-shadow, leaving a trace of a past event or absent force, not as realism but theater. These are that rarer type of art that records its making in time and suggests moments outside of itself.

Among many other questions, Nathan begs that of what happens when you look at every form as a potential symbol. Some of the artist’s concerns—myth, story, and traces of civilizations on one hand and the ambiguity of identity and meaning on the other—crest for a moment on the vast unknowable ocean of the collective unconscious, which includes universals and the thoughts and feelings of an individual that went into the works’ making.

Even without knowing the backstory, references feel mostly ancient, whether from Homer or myths of shape-shifting beings, but in the works on paper there is a big splash of Pop and almost comic book imagery. This aspect was a little, not off-putting, but hard to square with the other tactile relics. Apparently Nathan began with the drawings, which are hung together on one wall, and worked the ideas into sculptures, almost as if she translated contemporary iconography into forms of the past, an idea’s line of flight moving back and forth in time.

My hunch is that this whole body of work emerged from one of those drawings, a small one called “Goya’s Tights” (an easy piece to overlook among so many that vie for attention), which shows a woman awkwardly donning or doffing fishnets. (Amongst all the other nautical referents, Nathan’s not above a little sight gag.) Having been observed by a certain eye and traced by a certain hand, you too might see how a particular figure performing a transitional action in a brief moment in time can be spun into an epic tale.