Friday, December 30, 2011

The Tales We Weave (part 2 of 2): "Focus: Fiber 2011" in Canton

The Tales We Weave (Part 2of 2): “Focus: Fiber 2011” in Canton
By Tom Wachunas

Another smaller, but vibrant work that requires a shift in viewing posture is Bonnie Patterson’s “Bitter Root.” The ‘ground’ for this piece seems at first to be an abstract field, and on one level it is. The multiple fabric swatches are heat transfer images of Montana topographical and geological images – a mapped landscape interspersed with a few larger images of Washington, D.C. When visiting this not- so- plain(s)- state(ment), tilt your head about 45 degrees clockwise to read the embroidered longhand text along the bottom half. Politics and poetry meet in a kind of folk-art embrace of social and environmental concerns. A story being told.

And it is indeed a narrative, often autobiographical sensibility that informs many other works here. In that sense, such works, for all their clearly modern look, speak nonetheless to early textile art traditions of storytelling as well as a passion for pure, decorative pattern.

June Lee’s “Who We Are” is a deceivingly simple presentation of five black, hand-sewn shirts with white collars, made from translucent Korean cloth. These are school uniforms, hovering in midair above five sets of disembodied, brightly colored fabric hands on the floor. Each set of hands is poised in a specific gesture. These would be signals, Lee tells us in her statement, passed (unseen by the teacher) between students. The piece is a stark, quietly provocative ‘story’ of declared individuality in the context of strictly imposed conformity - a new twist, perhaps, to ‘kid gloves.’

“Amazing Grace” by Cynthia Lockhart is an intensely explosive pastiche of hand-dyed and painted fabrics, lace, collage, and applique. Its spectacular opulence of color, shapes, and textures is a fittingly exuberant homage to divine presence along life’s meandering pathways. Another homage is “Gothic Vessel (after Duccio)” by Jennifer A. Reis. This one, spectacular in its own right, is to Duccio di Buoninsegna, a 13th century Italian painter of religious subjects. The intricate, swirling beadwork in this Madonna icon is wondrously evocative of shimmering golden mosaics. And speaking of beadwork, the three works by Simone Schiffmacher transform a burger, fries, and taco (each presented on a gold leafed cafeteria tray) into dazzling, jeweled trophies of a sort - an impressive, labor-intense apotheosis of junk food.

Among the more abstract, patterned works, Rumana Hawa’s “Unison Vault” is another fascinating example of Jacquard weaving, and utterly enchanting in its interlocked shapes. They’re every bit as complex and maze-like as the artist’s accompanying statement. Something maybe about metaphysics, metaphor, and/or the spirituality of math. Arcane language aside, the delightful proof here is in the looking. So be hypnotized, be very hypnotized.

Without having relevant statistics to back up or dispute any assumption that the fiber arts are still primarily ‘womens’ work’ (aside, possibly, from the context of international high-fashion clothing design), it is interesting to note that the work in this show is in fact predominantly by women. Having said that, Adam Kessler’s pieces, “Solar System Fan” and “Human Fan,” are remarkably unique entries. And it’s not so much because they’re by a male, but because of their appealing intimacy and facile embroidery of figures sewn through elegantly shaped wooden blades. At once hard, soft, and airy.

The conceptual play between hard and soft is very much at work in M.E. Ware’s “Power Suit for Modern Mothers.” Hard, as in a critical look at cultural stereotypes and assumptions about gender roles and appearances. Soft, as associated with delicate or feminine, and the raw material of the work – felted laundry lint! This freestanding work, humorous and severe, is made entirely from grayish lint that’s been sculpted into a clothing store mannequin wearing a woman’s business suit – a cautionary stepping out, perhaps, from dingy domesticity into tainted corporate power-grabbing.

Like so much of this exhibit, it’s a potent, inventive melding of intellectual and visual muscle…and grace.

Photos courtesy Canton Museum of Art: “Amazing Grace” by Cynthia Lockhart (top), and “Gothic Vessel (after Duccio)” by Jennifer A. Reis. On view through March 4, 2012, at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Ave. N. in Canton, Ohio. (330) 453 – 7666

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