Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Preview of Live Wire: Materials of a Revolution

I had a treat last week.  Santa Fe gallery form & concept, which focuses on work at the intersection of fine art, fine craft and design, gave me and a small (socially-distanced and masked) group of local tapestry artists a sneak preview of the new exhibit, Live Wire:  Materials of a Revolution.  The nationally juried and invitational fiber art exhibit was launched in cooperation with the Española Valley/New Mexico Fiber Arts Center.  The exhibit is on view by appointment at the gallery through October 10 and also online at the form&concept website.   

Co-Juror and Gallery Director Jordan Eddy writes that  "Fiber is the material of revolution.  . . . In recent decades, fiber artists from Judy Chicago to Faith Ringgold have provided potent kindling for social and political movements."  

A friend of mine on the tour commented that normally she is not drawn to "political art" but she found the pieces we saw surprisingly subtle, engaging and thought-provoking.  As we were a group of tapestry artists, we were naturally thrilled to see four pieces by Erika Diamond, including the much-published Three Fates.  It was a pleasure to see Diamond continuing to explore the theme of disaster and emergency.  The scenes may be specific (a heart attack, putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane) but the metaphorical import is spot-on for our times.

Erika Diamond, Airline Series:  Mother and Child Inhale, 2014.  
Handwoven alpaca tapestry, 24" x 32"

These linked pieces by Tali Weinberg drew us in with the beautiful shimmering color and intricate woven pattern.  The conceptual impact came when we realized they are a "data visualization" of 138 years of temperature records for the Earth's surface, on land and on the sea, and that the shimmer comes from the use of recycled fishing line.  

Tali Weinberg, Water Bodies (Ocean) and Water Bodies (Land), 2019.
138 years of temperature data for 29 percent of the Earth’s surface, hemp dyed with plant- and insect-derived dyes, petrochemical-derived fishing line, 35" x 50" (Ocean) and 35" x 42" (Land).

detail, Tali Weinberg, Water Bodies (Land), 2019.
138 years of temperature data for 29 percent of the Earth’s surface, hemp dyed with plant- and insect-derived dyes, petrochemical-derived fishing line, 35" x 42"

I enjoyed discovering the work of New Mexico artist Rosemary Meza-Desplas, who embroiders images with her own human hair.  She writes:  
My drawings are created by hand-sewing my hair into various surfaces. I have been sewing with hair since 2000. The decision to utilize hair as a vehicle for making art is informed by socio-cultural symbolism, feminism, body image issues, and religious symbolism. Collecting and sorting my hair is a ritualistic act.
Rosemary Meza-Desplas, detail, What you Whispered Should be Screamed, 2018.
Handsewn human gray hair on black twill fabric (artist's hair), 35"x 33"x2.25" overall

The image of a woman screaming in rage and anguish really hits home these days (even if the piece was made pre-Covid), and the inescapable thought that the artist has literally been tearing her hair out to make the work only adds to the impact.  

I would be remiss if I did not include an image of the elephant, er, VW Beetle, in the room. 

Priscilla Dobler, El Volkswagen, 2020
Wood, thread, audio 

This facsimile of a VW Beetle dominates the atrium space of the gallery and provoked bemused wonderment in our group.  According to the press release for the show, "Priscilla Dobler's woven Volkswagen Beetle [is] a life-sized actualization of the corporate and capitalist influence in the arts."  For me the Beetle has other associations, and the bright colors of the weaving and the sheer playfulness of the concept belied any intended critique of capitalism.  Here is an excerpt from the artist's statement:
I wanted to create a life-size woven Volkswagen to highlight the harm done by industrialization. Environmental issues like land erosion and the exploitation and displacement of black, brown and indigenous people are legacies of this production. When we think of iconic objects and images in Mexican culture the Volkswagen always comes to mind. The seductive beauty, color and technological engineering hide a dark and violent past. 
The statement goes on to summarize the origins of the Beetle in Nazi Germany.  Upon reading the statement, I have a better understanding of the artist's intent, but sadly this intent is not evident to viewers of the piece who do not read the statement.  (Images and the artist's statement for this piece will be uploaded to the online gallery soon.)   
We did not get to see every piece in the exhibit at the preview, and I am planning to return to see the show in its entirety.  If you're not near Santa Fe, I urge you to settle in with your favorite beverage and explore the exhibit at leisure in the online gallery.  It is organized according to "threads" such as Urgency, Identity, Ecology and History, among others, and each artwork is presented with beautiful photography and the artist's statement.  

P.S. Our group got a bonus treat from then-Sales Director William Dunn who led our tour:  an in-depth look at four tapestries by the late Hal Painter, weaver extraordinaire and co-founder of the American Tapestry Alliance.  William shared the fruit of his research into Painter's work and career, and we enjoyed seeing his work up close.  You can see three of Painter's tapestries by scrolling down on this page in the gallery's online Shop.