“Fiber?” is this year’s material-based exhibition in C-LINK Gallery at Brazee Street Studios. It features 13 Cincinnati-based artists: Sandra Palmer Ciolino, Judy Dominic, Cris Fee, Jennifer Zimmerman Garter, Kelli Gleiner, Pam Kravetz, Carla Lamb, Jacob Lynn, Karen Saunders, Barbara Stewart, Jenifer Sult, Jonpaul Smith, and Lindsay Whittle.
When I walked into the show, it took some discipline to look at the work installed in the first gallery. I only succeeded in giving this room a glance, before surrendering to the siren call of the three colorful biomorphic totems that dominated the rather cell-like second room. Entitled #connect and made by Lindsay Whittle, they reached from floor to rafter in a cacophony of colors—green, blue, orange, purple, tan for several root-like appendages; even black and white looked vibrant. On the frigid but sunny January day I viewed the show, these drunken caryatids promised spring. The contorted columns are made up of irregular patches of felt held together with Velcro, which was also used as ribbon-like linear elements. The painter Cole Carothers, who happened to be visiting the gallery at the time, aptly called the sculptures a marriage of Niki de St. Phalle and Claes Oldenburg.
Whittle used the idea of making connections as the basis for a performance piece.
I didn’t see it but Chelsea Borgman, C-LINK coordinator, described the performance. Whittle and her husband wore Velcro suits and audience members tossed large plush shapes at them. The shapes stuck and eventually overwhelmed them. Pulling the shapes apart took real effort, giving the piece a muscularity that Borgman hadn’t expected. Her description and the performance photos reminded me of Nick Cave’s riotous Soundsuits and his performances.
After the delightful experience of #connect, I took in the rest of the show. The pieces that would have arrested me if #connect hadn’t ensnared my attention were Jennifer Zimmerman Garter’s collars made of copper wire. With the sun shining on the wearable neckpieces, they glowed. The impressive collar #4 reminded me of Elizabethan ruffs, although it’s only half a ruff and “drapes” over the wearer’s left shoulder rather than standing stiffly away from the body. It is real statement jewelry, which can only be pulled off by a statuesque model in a LBD—little black dress.
Garter’s collar #4 unintentionally relates to Pam Kravetz’s Jingle Bells Yosemite puppet. The figure surely is Judy from the popular Punch and Judy shows, which trace their roots to 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte. The puppet is suspended from the ceiling and hovers over three bugle-beaded panels depicting a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes box, a Windex bottle, and a Campbell’s Chicken Soup can (thank you, Andy Warhol). These are certainly in the spirit of Haitian Vodou flags, which, coincidentally, also inspired Nick Cave.
Carla Lamb’s eyes gaze at you as if in a trance, or maybe they’re hypnotizing you. Stuffed with batting to make them dimensional, the eyes are embellished with sequins, embroidery, and beads, some with letters that spell out the titles. Each is mounted in a velvet-lined plastic box lid, which is framed with simple crocheting that could be the border of one of your grandmother’s—more likely, great-grandmother’s–doilies. Lamb says that her work is “ornate, detailed, and on the small, intimate side,” as if we didn’t know.
Jacob Lynn’s solitary and faceless embroidered figures on blank grounds captivated me. They are from his “Internal Dialogues” series and lines of running stitches spell out those communications in Morse code.
Through the embroidered image I ask questions of the acceptability of the medium for males in a female dominated field. The subversive nature of embroidery made by men asks questions of American gender roles that coordinate with the internal discourse that I have with my own queer gender identity. Through Morse code I express those internalized dialogues on my experiences within the heterosexual world, and ask questions of what makes an action queer. With this I ask, what are the conversations that shape the realization of identity?
They Started a Second Troop . . . deals directly with his queer identity (the word queer has been reclaimed by the gay community). The boy wearing a pale pink Boy Scout uniform is invisible but his right arm is raised to recite the Boy Scout oath:
On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
That last word now has a meaning unanticipated in 1910 when the Scouts were founded and prohibited all boys who were “known or avowed homosexuals.” This was finally dropped from its membership policies in January 2014, but it took until July of the following year to allow gay adults to participate. (Atheists and agnostics are still banned.)
Jenifer Sult’s piece is also personal but not nearly so serious. She simply finds her name boring, hence its unusual spelling with only one n. In Jennifer . . .Oh Jenny, she’s appliqued a muslin apron onto a patchwork quilt of pastel floral fabrics and embroidered it with many variations on the name Jennifer. Jinnifer, Jinafer, Jenyphar, Jeni are just a few. Above the apron on either side, there are two sampler-like embroidered patches. One of them reads: “A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Maybe. Possibly. Probably. Perhaps.” It’s a riff on a line from Romeo and Juliet, but this Romeo isn’t quite so sure.
There were artists here who made me wonder why they use fiber’s laborious techniques when they could make the same statement in paint or pencil. Sandra Palmer Ciolino’s hard-edged geometric compositions made up of blocks of fabric overlaid with machine-quilted lines don’t look worth the effort. She likes the tactile quality of fabric and machine quilting, which adds “layers of character, texture, and structure to the composition,” in her words. Unfortunately these works aren’t very tactile and don’t warrant her insistence on fabric.
Cris Fee’s embroidered Azurite, a reclining sleeping nude, left me wondering why she doesn’t just call it a day with her drawings of live models that are a preliminary step in her process. Although she’s begun to work directly on fabric, I’m not sure it makes her use of embroidery any more compelling. She writes, “My quilts are a reflection of my interest in the people around me and the daily circumstances in which we find ourselves.” Nothing in that demands to be expressed in embroidery. But she goes on to say that she is “intrigued by the idea of using the fabrics with which we have long covered ourselves as a means to depict the human form.” Interesting thought, but unfortunately I don’t see her work exploring it.
There was more to like than to kvetch about in “Fiber?” The same could not be said of last summer’s too ambitious “Fibers: The Next Dimension” (see aeqai, September 2015) at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center. (For what it’s worth, of the 25 artists in “The Next Dimension,” there are only two also seen here: Pam Kravetz and Barbara Stewart.) “Fiber?” is a smaller and more modest show, content to just raise the question and let the viewer decide.
“Fiber?” C-LINK Gallery, Brazee Street Studios, 4426 Brazee St., Cincinnati, OH 45209. 513-321-0206, brazeestreetstudios.com. Tues., 9 am-7 pm; Thur., 9 am-7 pm; Fri., 9 am-5 pm; Sat., 10 am-5 pm. “Fiber?” closes February 26, 2016