Modes of Transport
By Tom Wachunas
Double, double toil and trouble; /Fire burn and caldron bubble./
Cool it with a baboon's blood,/ Then the charm is firm and good.
- “Song of the Witches” excerpt, from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
“The finished surface holds the memory of what has been imprinted upon it by pressure, sometimes by moisture heat, and by time. It also bears the memory of an experience, an encounter with nature, or the hands of the artisan…” - Nancy Farr Benigni
EXHIBIT: CONFLUENCE: Textiles and Organic Prints By Nancy Farr Benigni / Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH MARCH 2, 2018 / Gallery Hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Rest assured that the above excerpt from Shakespeare is not to imply that the work of visiting artist Nancy Farr Benigni is in any way hellish or sinister. The quote is intended only as a kind of gateway to appreciating the mystique of her mark-making methods. In this context, think of ‘caldron’ as a causal device, such as a vat for mixing dyes, or for that matter, any procedure for causing paper and textiles to hold us firmly in their thrall. There’s a preternatural allure, maybe even a spirit of alchemy, to Benigni’s works, embedded as they are with the potential to take us to some where, to some time. They evoke, conjure, transport.
When is the last time, for example, that you traversed a wooded glen, a verdant meadow, a forest floor? Did you see – I mean really see – what you thought you were looking at? Did you closely examine the ground? Did you stoop down to touch it? Smell it? Listen to it? You were standing on a microcosm that spanned millennia.
Another way to sense the surface on which you were walking is as a primordial fabric - a vast network of stratified patterns, textures, and colors woven together. Then you might imagine the loamy earth under your feet as a kind of loom - a frame for stretching out the warp and weft of protean organic materials arranged by natural forces. [‘Warp’ and ‘weft’ are the basic weaving components used to make thread or yarn into fabric. Longitudinal warp yarns are held in stationary tension on a loom while the transverse weft is drawn through, inserted over-and-under the warp.]
Each of the individual components of this installation – woven fiber hangings imprinted with organic shapes, and prints on paper - is untitled. Think of them as chapters or episodes in a continuous journey presented under the collective title of “Confluence,” referring to the artist’s merging of creative procedures. “There is a mysterious quality,” Benigni writes in her statement, “in the processes of opening a bundle of leaves that have been steamed with paper or cloth, opening a woven piece gathered and bound with shibori knots, or the shifting threads of a painted warp as it is woven.”
Pictorially, that ‘mysterious quality’ often comes through in the prints that suggest ghostly foliate fossils. In a compacted sort of way, the artist’s methods can be seen to imitate and accelerate some of nature’s own mechanisms for producing such forms.
Further, Benigni’s beautifully woven vertical banners harken to ancient cultural practices of adorning textiles and garments, including the use of carved textile stamps. Some of those stamps, which Benigni has been collecting since her college days at Kent State University – remarkable works of art in their own right - are included in the exhibit (shown above in the last photo). I highly recommend a visit to her spectacular website (click on link at top of this post). See her edifying blog entries for an in-depth look at some aspects of her textile art.
This installation at Kent Stark’s Main Hall Art Gallery is an altogether elegant articulation of a tactile metaphysic. Consider it a way of connecting to, touching, and remembering… histories. Our present act of intentional, close scrutiny can itself be a mode of transport into its mesmerizing charm, which is indeed “…firm and good.”