Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: Intertwined show of Fiber Art

There's a new biennial show of fiber art in town.  It's called Intertwined:  Contemporary Southeastern Fiber Art, and it runs through March 21 at the Hudgens Center for the Arts at the Gwinnett Civic Center in Duluth.  I had the pleasure of attending the opening reception last Saturday night.  A few days ago I went back to the gallery for a closer look at the art.  This time I was even more impressed by the innovative approaches of several fiber artists working in the Southeast.

Jim Arendt:  Totemic Figures  Photo:  Molly Elkind
Let's be frank:  too often fiber art begins and ends with technical mastery.   Conceptual content can be weak.  The best work in this show goes far beyond technique and grapples with real contemporary issues, both in the art world and in the world at large.  Jim Arendt's piece Totemic Figures (see left) was awarded Best in Show.  Three monumental figures clad in flowing layers of cut-up blue jeans dominate the modest-sized gallery.  In two figures, strips of denim pour out from the mouth and eyes.   The third figure has a double face.  The effect is disquieting, threatening and mournful all at once.  The sheer abundance of the recycled blue jeans reminds me of the mountains of cast-off clothing at my local charity, waiting to be sorted through.  I also think of textile workers who sacrifice their health and sometimes their lives in far-away factories, making our disposable fashions. Doubtless other viewers will find other meaningsThere is fine craft here--the faces are depicted with amazing realism in carefully constructed layers--but the piece is much larger, in both senses of the word, than fine applique.

Detail, Totemic Figures  Photo:  Molly Elkind
Another piece that pushes a traditional technique into new territory, and one of my own favorites, is Cassidy Russell's Removing/Shifting (Doorknob), a work of machine and hand embroidery on layers of paper.  (Apologies for the off-kilter photo--I had to shoot at angle to avoid a distracting reflection.) For me the paper substrate lends the piece the aura of an obscure text, an enigmatic poem.  Stitches hint at a mystery:  what is behind the doorknob, if I were to grasp the edge that folds out from the page?  What would I see through the keyhole?  The precise stitches form frilly patterns suggestive of women's clothing, perhaps hinting at a domestic secret. This piece alludes to traditional decorative textiles without itself becoming oneLoose ends are appropriate here.   

Cassidy Russell:  Removing/Shifting (Doorknob) Photo:  Molly Elkind

While work involving quilting, sculpture, embroidery, printing, painting, felting and mixed media techniques is on view, for me the innovative weaving stands out.  A number of pieces held my interest; I will limit myself to one here.  Robin L. Haller's piece All of Your Tears (photo below) garnered an Honorable Mention.  Large circular patterns float over several small circular patterns.  The piece is divided vertically in half--an intriguing  composition also used to great effect by Ann Roth in Serendipity--and yet color, line and shape create an all-over unifying patternHaller's digitally driven TC-1 loom makes possible intricate combinations of weave structure, yet finally I was charmed most by the irregularities of the ikat-dyed warp, and the glint of hand-stitched gold threads.  

 Juror and judge Dorothy Moye states that the show reveals a "spectrum of techniques, concept, materials, execution, and global awareness transcending any hint of a regional fiber ghetto." 

Robin L. Haller:  All of Your Tears  Photo:  Molly Elkind
 This show does display the incredible variety of media and approaches in contemporary fiber art.  Many group fiber shows do that. This exhibit demonstrates that the best fiber work being done today can stand beside the best contemporary work in any medium.   Fiber artists are used to their work being "ghettoized," segregated in fiber-only shows.  Traditionally fiber art has been marginalized as craft, as women's work, as amateur and domestically oriented, lesser than the "high arts" of painting and sculpture.  Fiber-only shows have offered and continue to provide important opportunities for exposure and visibility to fiber artists.  

At the same time, however, these shows can fall into the trap of celebrating astounding technical achievement devoid of fresh content.  Intertwined is a pointed reminder to me and to all of us who work with fiber to keep pushing the conceptual content of our work. 

This show is sponsored by Atlanta's Southeastern Fiber Arts Alliance, (SEFAA) in honor of the organization's fifth anniversary.  Also on view are works by five artists chosen by Ray Pierotti in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the growth of SEFAA: Jennifer CrenshawLynn Pollard, Leisa Rich, Tommye McClure Scanlin, and Karen Tunnell.  Uniquely among the artists represented, Dahlonega tapestry weaver Tommye Scanlin was selected for both parts of the show. 

The show is on view through March 21 at the Hudgens Center for the Arts at Gwinnett Civic Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth, 30097.  A catalog of the show will be available mid-February at the Hudgens or from SEFAA at 1705 Commerce Dr. NW, Atlanta, 30318 or online. The show will travel to The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (March 23- April 21), Lamar Arts in Barnesville, GA (May 1-June 27) and Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts in Valdosta, GA (Aug. 3-Sept. 16).

Go!  See the show and tell us what you think! 


    1. All of us at SEFAA appreciate your kind review and thoughtful words Molly. Thank you!

    2. Congrats on the new blog. I've been trying to get my new blog started and you have inspired me. It's not too late, I guess.

      I was very interested in your review of the Best in Show pieces as I was quite disturbed when I saw some preliminary pictures of them on FB. They seemed to be a bit gruesome for textile art which is usually so beautiful, lovely, colorful, etc. I wonder if some of the shift in the statements made through textile art is because more men are getting involved in the medium. I remember seeing a stenciled quilt where the color used was actually blood. Not your mama's quilt for sure. I will definitely head the exhibit and take a look for myself. See you in the blogsphere.

      1. FarmerCAB, Do go see the show and let us know what you think! And go ahead--dive into the blogosphere! It's never too late.

    3. So glad to see your new blog, Molly! I am anxious to go see this show.

    4. Do go, Martha, and let us know what you think!