Wednesday, March 22, 2017

SDA's juried show "Shifting Landscapes" part 1

I was in Santa Fe last week and got a chance to view the 3rd International juried members' show of the Surface Design Association.  The show, juried by Erika Lynn Hanson and Frank Rose, is at form & concept gallery through May 20.  The show got under my skin enough that I went back to see it a second time, and I'm glad I did.   In fact, there was so much to see and to ponder that this is the first of two posts about this show.  All photographs are by me.  Full disclosure:  While I am a member of SDA I did not enter this show. 

The Surface Design Association is one of the major organizations of fiber artists in the country. Surface design is, narrowly speaking, the patterning of cloth or paper.  More broadly, the organization's purpose is to support "innovation in fiber, art and design."  SDA publishes a beautiful quarterly, the Surface Design Journal, and sponsors conferences bringing together artists and academics in the field of fiber art.  I was taken aback, then, to find in the show a number of works that did not utilize fiber at all.  These included an installation of paper swatches, a video, three photographs identified as "hand-dyed silver prints," and a piece made of dirt.  More about that later. 

Yuge Zhou, Soft Plots, video with sound.
I confess: I find video generally unconvincing in the art context.  Very few images on a screen have for me the power of something in which I can see the mark of the hand.  I failed to see how this particular piece related either to the theme or to textiles.  It did not help that the ambient music in the gallery totally drowned out any sound in the video.  

As an artist who loves to work with fiber, and who is well aware of the lack of respect in the wider art world for our medium and materials, I was dismayed--at first--that a flagship fiber organization would devote precious exhibit space to non-fiber work.  Conversation with the friendly gallery-sitter, and later checking of the SDA website, informed me that the show intended from the start to include "both traditional and non-traditional contemporary interpretations of place by makers working with or inspired by fiber or textile materials and techniques."  Ah. "Inspired by."

I'll come back to this notion.  For now I want to look at how artists approached the theme of place, by now a well-worn theme in art and literature.  

Some artists took a fairly literal tack, depicting maps or land or water.  To my mind this approach led to rather less interesting pieces, though I did enjoy how Faith Kane gave traditional blackwork embroidery an update in this piece:  


Faith Kane, Regional Sampler--Wellington NZ
digital drawing/embroidery on nonwoven paper, 66" x 13.5" 

detail, Faith Kane, Regional Sampler--Wellington NZ
digital drawing/embroidery on nonwoven paper, 66" x 13.5"
Other artists viewed landscape metaphorically, as an internal, emotional place.  In this category I liked this series of three collages by Karen-Anne Glick best.   I enjoyed the artist's abstract and pared-down approach that made the most of subtle contrasts in texture, edge, and line.  For me these pieces are evocative and poetic. 


Karen-Anne Glick, L to R:  Dreams of Streets Paved with Gold, Ja Vi Elsker, Memories of the Midnight Sun,
set of three, mixed media textile, each 17" x 17"

Karen-Anne Glick, Ja Vi Elsker, mixed media textile, 17" x 17"

By far the most common, and to my eyes the most effective, approach to the theme was to sound a prophetic call:  to focus on ways in which our human history is bound up with the earth's, and to indicate the future that awaits if we fail to take action on environmental issues.

Barbara Shapiro wove and then dyed with indigo pieces of cloth that when mounted suggested to me the rising sea levels caused by climate change.  Is this a city skyline, sinking?



Barbara Shapiro, Sea Change, woven and dyed fabric, 24" x 62" x 1"
detail, Barbara Shapiro, Sea Change, woven and dyed fabric, 24" x 62" x 1"

It was interesting to compare Shapiro's piece with the one below on the same theme.  Again there is the sense of changing water levels. 


Yewen Dong, Water is Fragile 2, paper clay, 57.5" x 52" x .5"
detail, Yewen Dong, Water is Fragile 2, paper clay, 57.5" x 52" x .5"
Remember the piece made of dirt I mentioned?  As it turned out, on second look, my absolute favorite piece in the exhibit was Red Dirt Rug by Rena Detrixhe of Oklahoma.   


Red Dirt Rug, Rena Detrixhe.  earth, 96' x 72" x 5"
 My first response is Wow, how was that done?  And then, of course, Why?  Why emboss an ornate traditional rug pattern on or in a layer of dirt? It completely subverts the purpose of a rug--to cover and to decorate a bare floor.  Sometimes we sweep dirt under a rug!  Normally a rug with this kind of formal and traditional pattern is a precious luxury item.  Wait. . . maybe that's the point. 

In most cases I think a work of art should stand on its own without needing words to explain it. But Rena's artist's statement was posted, and in this case provided valuable context:
This rich red soil is the land of the dust bowl, the end of the trail of tears, of land runs and pipelines, deep fault-lines and hydraulic fracturing.  There is immense beauty and pride in this place and also profound sorrow.
The refining and sifting of the soil and the imprinting of the pattern is a meditation on this past, a gesture of sensitivity and a desire for understanding.  It is a meticulous and solitary act.

detail, Red Dirt Rug, Rena Detrixhe.  earth, 96' x 72" x 5"

I will come back to this piece in next week's post, when I consider the artists' approaches to specific mediums of weaving, embroidery, and quiltmaking.