Living in the material world
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, February 1, 2013
‘Interwoven” is not a craft show, but at times it feels like one.
Materiality is front and center at this Arlington Arts Center exhibition, the subtitle of which -- “Art. Craft. Design.” -- gives only second billing to what is most obvious, and best, about the show. That’s the craft.
Although “Interwoven” tries to give equal emphasis to all three, the exhibition is a roundup of eye candy featuring beadwork, crochet, embroidery, papier-mache, cast glass, basket weaving and jewelry (albeit a fairly unwearable choker made of piano hammers and wire).
Despite a couple of video works, it’s mostly a quirky and robustly tactile survey of the physical universe of art-making materials, with objects fashioned from wooden branches, netting, felt, fur, carved drywall, yarn and an odd assortment of tool handles.
It all practically cries out to be touched.
To be sure, the show also includes pieces by artists who work in two dimensions: Jessica Smith (window film), Martine Workman (prints and drawings on paper), Rebecca Mushtare (engraved plastic signage) and Kristin Skees (photographs), among others. Yet even as some of this work plays with conceptualism or flirts with oddball media -- Workman uses coffee as pigment -- much of it tends to recede into the background, next to more muscular competition.
Featuring 26 artists selected by curators Melissa Messina of the Savannah College of Art and Design and Kathryn Wat of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Interwoven” aims for a perfect trifecta -- work that incorporates elements of art, craft and design, and that blurs the arbitrary lines that sometimes separate them. Marc Robarge’s lovely, biomorphic “What Goes Around,” for instance, is an almost ikebana-influenced sculpture. Made from tree branches and pigmented plaster, its a good example of the three-part fusion of art, craft and design.
And there are many others.
Caroline Wells Chandler’s “Waiting,” for example, is just a goofy, hand-crocheted wool doll. But scaled to nearly the size of an adult human, it takes on a creepy, voyeuristic cast, as if it’s watching you, like something out of a horror movie, from its perch in a corner of the building’s atrium.
Maggie Gourlay’s series of “Drywall Paintings” are almost exactly as advertised: a panoramic landscape stretching across seven plywood panels. Yet the only actual paint on them is industrial white house paint. The details of the abstract horizon -- which resembles a flat expanse of cracking sea ice -- are created by deep channels gouged out of drywall and then filled in with lacy filigree of crocheted embroidery floss.
Other favorites include Nikki Farrand, who uses the accumulation of small, nearly identical objects to make sculptural installations that are greater than the sum of their parts. It’s hard to say why the artist’s “In Flow,” which features 400 tennis-ball-size spheres woven from strips of maple veneer, works, but it does, and not only on the eyes. Taken together with Farrand’s “In the Full Functioning of Body and Mind” -- which incorporates 120 hand-tied nets arranged like something out of a minimalist seafood restaurant -- it’s a kind of conceptual homage to the folk traditions practiced by basket weavers and fishermen.
Of course, not everything succeeds. Allison Bianco’s “Five Feet in Front of the Horizon” is a mishmash of 2-D and 3-D work. Wrapped around the perimeter of the art center’s lower-level Experimental Gallery, it’s an unremarkable abstract picture, incorporating house paint and silkscreening. But that’s not all. A pack of amoeboid black foil balloons, weighted with footlike appendages, populates the center of the room, occasionally clumping up in its corners and even wandering out into the hallway, as the air currents catch them.
Not every experiment works.
By and large, however, “Interwoven” makes a strong point. Is it art? Is it craft? Is it design? Who cares?
It answers its own question with a question, and with plenty of visual verve.
The story behind the work
By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, February 1, 2013
Clarissa Gregory seems especially uninterested in being pigeonholed -- even more so than most of her fellow “Interwoven” artists. A painter, animator, modelmaker and dancer (with Baltimore’s Effervescent Collective), Gregory contributes a piece to the exhibition that is as hard to define as it is to forget.
Called “walk through forest, enter water, build fort,” the work centers around a short, stop-action film featuring a young woman or girl doing pretty much exactly what the title describes. It’s a lighter, more charming take on the dreamlike films of the Brothers Quay, featuring a semi-autobiographical protagonist and inspired by the artist’s memories of growing up in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior.
But the video screen is set deep inside what looks like the knothole of a tree, and you have to strain a bit to see it. Referencing the natural objects that the artist sees -- and photographs -- during walks, the papier-mache sculpture adds another dimension to the film. The doll-like heroine of “walk through forest” doesn’t seem to be on display so much as something -- or someone -- discovered and half-hidden.