Editors' pick

Inform/Re-form

Mixed Media
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Editorial Review

At Strathmore, art with a re-purpose
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, July 27, 2012

With “Inform/Re-form,” Strathmore curator Harriet Lesser has assembled five artists, all women, whose work is connected by the loosest of fibers. Each, in her own way, repurposes textiles or paper, transforming scraps into the sacred with a meticulous eye.

Laurie Brown’s tightly wound pinwheels of paper, each hand-dyed and knotted with a single delicate thread, form textured abstractions that suggest what pointillist paintings might look like under a microscope. Virginia Spiegel -- whose work, along with Brown’s and Cathy Kleeman’s, can be found on the first floor of the Mansion at Strathmore -- transforms haphazard strips of cotton, batik and canvas into meticulous patchwork quilts held together by hundreds of stitches. Her “Boundary Waters” series in particular bears some looking, as Spiegel invokes the colors, movement and mood of a riverscape with only these reordered rags. Kleeman’s textiles begin in a similar fashion, but, once patched together, her quiltlike fabrics are printed and painted over till they begin to look like graffiti on brick; it’s a neat optical illusion.

The heart of “Inform/Re-form,” however, is the collaborative installation on the mansion’s second floor. Artists Jacqui Crocetta and Veronica Szalus submitted an outline for a project, “Out of Context, Close to Home,” in response to an open call by Strathmore. In a work filling an entire room, the artists crafted a plush bed, a quilt and floppy, transparent pillows out of indus­trially shredded paper. It’s that paper that imbues the piece with its intended meaning: Many of the strips come from the daily newspaper, whose alarmist headlines screech warnings about terrorists, home safety and the end of the world.

The installation hits with a little bit of a thud. Rather, it hits you over the head with a message so blatant that it leaves one wishing the artists had left more to viewers to reflect upon.

Crocetta and Szalus, encouraged by Lesser, also have filled the other second-floor rooms with their individual work, as well as another site-specific piece, “Evolving Conversation,” a capstone to their artistic union. It is this work, though literally out of context when paired with “Out of Context,” that is the most compelling fare in the show.

Crocetta and Szalus, on their own, have unmistakable commonalities. Using delicate materials, both suggest ultimate fragility and create the kinds of spaces that are best tiptoed through. In the amusing “Untitled” (2011), Crocetta pierces already fragile eggshells with thin metal dowels and stacks them precariously -- almost Jenga-like -- in a basket of mesh. Similarly, her ­“Tender” (2010) forms a permeable cocoon of grapevine and wire -- hardly the materials one would think of as ideal for nesting. Compare those ­pieces with Szalus’s “CHeXOK,” in which spheres made of cheesecloth and plaster, like broken eggshells themselves, lie scattered across the floor, or her striking “Permeable,” another installation of towers of mesh from which spindly grass reeds extend, scarecrowlike, keeping the viewer at a distance.

“Inform/Re-form” reflects a new perspective at Strathmore, which has quietly been increasing the presence of contemporary work in its ornate mansion space. (As evidence, take the next exhibit, “Skin,” which will explore body modification.) The sculptural works by Crocetta and Szalus in particular are a happy find in galleries long devoted to traditionalist art.

The story behind the work
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, July 27, 2012

Artists Jacqui Crocetta and Veronica Szalus met at an exhibition opening and clicked immediately as they discussed art. Shortly after, Szalus, the president of the artistic free-for-all Artomatic, called Crocetta with an idea: Why not answer Strathmore’s open call for work with an artistic collaboration? After a half-dozen meetings, the pair settled on the idea of a work centered around shredded paper; the dialogue then turned to the reasons people shred paper in the first place: “People shred that material for privacy,” Crocetta says.

Their room-size installation, “Out of Context, Close to Home,” in the Gudelsky Gallery Suite in the Mansion at Strathmore, is a site-specific bedroom tableau -- playing off the idea that the mansion was once a residence -- that explores the ideas of security at home and its big, scary cousin, homeland security. Patriot Shredding in Rockville donated the shredding services for the project, but look closely: The slivers of paper used to weave the installation’s cushy “bed,” wall-mounted “quilt” and “pillows” came from stacks and stacks of newspapers, personal mail and documents from the artists’ own mailboxes and the homes of friends and family.