In light of current events, art can seem powerless, superfluous, beside the point.
Gun violence, terrorism and war, racism, misogyny and income inequality are very much in the news and on the public mind. And the result of a political election that highlights the division within the country seems to render an artist’s quiet work irrelevant. Yet, in the absence of an alternative, artists keep working.
Today’s dark mood is reflected in many of the 39 works selected by artist Jennifer Angus for New Fibers 2016, on view in the University Gallery at Eastern Michigan University until December 7. Angus, known for her Victorian wallpaper-inspired installations of wall-mounted insects, is drawn to work that explores the intersection between fiber arts, technology and nature while maintaining a somber atmosphere throughout. In her juror’s statement she states, “My search was for pieces that I felt had heart, raw emotion, an unapologetic political stance, or were life affirming There is a great range of work in the exhibition with some very contemporary and original ideas.”
Eric Hazeltine’s monochromatic, minimal squares of charcoal, paper and string (Compositions I, II, III), Xia Gao’s luminous dark arch To Own Buddha-Xuan and Liz Robb’s Icelandic wool and horsehair weaving Icelandic Hestur are only a few of many minimal or post-minimal pieces that set the solemn tone.
However, in spite of the generally somber mood of the work in New Fiber 2016, fresh ideas and unusual uses of material abound. Teresa Paschke’s Train Station with Kites features a digital photographic print on fabric with applied embroidery and stenciled clouds, her dreamlike vision describing the border between the mundane and the visionary. Also lively and original is a video entitled I AM MY OWN MASCOT (residue) by J. Casey Doyle. In it, a figure shrouded in yellow ribbons dances silently, performing a series of slow-motion gestures that seem to combine a cheerleading routine with yoga poses.
References to natural structures provide inspiration for many of the works in New Fibers 2016. Mount by Micaela Vivero recalls the work of industrious ants. Susan Aaron-Taylor’s cute-but-creepy felted creatures both repel and attract. Lichen Party Frock by George-Ann Bowers looks like a wasp’s nest re-imagined as fashion statement, and the very stuff of nature is incorporated into the site-specific grass works braided and woven into swirls and lines by Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.
Anxiety is also a recurring theme of much of the work in this exhibit. Michael Rohde’s Asora depicts a menacing hooded figure and At the End by LM Wood suggests ghostly limbs confined beneath a hazy screen as they reach for an untouchable thread. Heather Beardsley’s embroidered maps contain packed allegorical figures in a kind of comic horror vacui of unknown dangers and ominous cultural icons.
As might be expected in an exhibition that emphasizes the slow process of craft-based repetition and accrual to make a larger visual statement, New Fibers 2016 reminds us that art is a series of intentional processes that amount to a meaningful whole. And while this whole may seem weak and small right now in the face of current social and political disruptions, it is, nonetheless, important over time. The writer Katherine Ann Porter says it well:
The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their names and their shapes and their uses and their basic meanings survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and the societies, even the very civilization that produced them. They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.
The artists who create the works in this exhibition remind us that life and current events may be fleeting but art endures.
New Fiber 2016 is the seventh biennial exhibit of fiber arts sponsored by the Fiber Arts Network of Michigan, an organization founded on belief in the handmade, one-of-a-kind fiber object and dedicated to promoting its value in contemporary life and art. For more information about FAN, go here.
Artists included in this exhibit: Susan Aaron-Taylor, Heather Beardsley, George-Ann Bowers, David Brackett, Adrienne Callander, Chanjuan Chen, J. Casey Doyle, Holly Fischer, Xia Gao, Eric Hazeltine, Nancy Koenigsberg, Lily Lee, Skye Livingston, Cynthia Martinez, Teresa Paschke, Leslie Pontz, Liz Robb, Michael Rohde, Amanda Ross, Adrienne Sloane, Lauren Sobchak, Peeta Tinay, Betty Vera, Micaela Vivero , Jenny Walker, LM Wood, Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.
For more information about University Gallery of Eastern Michigan University go here.