Tag Archives: Eastern Michigan University

Thinking with Animals

nature-10
Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) by Emily White

Animals. They share our beds, our homes, our back yards.  We love them, as friends and as dinner.  And in some ways our relationship with them reflects a confused and self-contradictory understanding of our place in nature, a place that is being reassessed in the early 21st century as we confront climate change, animal cruelty and mass extinction.

Our fraught  relationship with animals forms the premise of Thinking with Animals, a thoughtful collection of  exquisite artworks currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo. Artists Jessica Tenbusch and Morgan Barrie have curated this exceptionally beautiful show, and share the gallery walls with the work of fellow artists  Julie Bahn, Emily White and Breanne Sherwood.

nature-7-detail-tenbusch
Artifacts/Ecofacts (detail) by Jessica Tenbusch

Jessica Tenbusch employs silver and bronze casts of natural objects such as animal bones, insect exoskeletons and bits of plants in dialog with highly refined manmade materials to create a series of lapidary landscapes displayed in a grid pattern.  The overall effect is one of beauty and order that invites close looking.  Each single component of her piece Artifacts/Ecofacts is a complete work of art but together they constitute a world of minute perception.

Morgan Barrie’s two large photo collages riff humorously on the well known Netherlandish Unicorn in Captivity  tapestry owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She adapts the decorative plants from the original tapestry by introducing  plants native to the upper Midwest, such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans and joe pye weed, digitally collaged on a dark background. nature-9-dogIn the center of the composition formerly occupied by the mythical unicorn are life-size domestic companion animals, the dog  and the cat, surrounded by what appears to be modern storm fencing of the type available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The dog in Tapestry is a handsome boxer and, as it happens, her own family dog . Though chained, he seems to be comfortable in his confinement, while the feral-looking cat in Captivity lurks within the fence, scheming to  escape.

Fiber artist Breanne Sherwood is clearly in love with the substance of nature. She shows a particular  affinity for the decorative qualities of bird plumage in Relics of Santiam, embellishing  disembodied avian wings with carefully embroidered and appliqued threads and tulle. They retain their anatomical identity but the delicacy of the artist’s handling imparts reverence to these relics of departed creatures. Sherwood’s more ambitiously scaled One Yard, One Bird applies human organization and emotional tenderness to a fatal event.

nature-8-pheasant feathers
One Yard, One Bird by Breanne Sherwood

The intimidatingly-sized and accomplished paintings of wild animals native to North America  in Emily White’s two artworks Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) and Velvet (a truly disturbing  life-size rendering of a moose shedding the velvet  skin of its antlers)  dominate the gallery.  They  look as if they could easily grace the walls of a natural history museum.  The landscapes in which the animals stand are surrounded by highly finished birch plywood, framing the wilderness in civilization. Easily missed in the paintings are the artist’s sly additions of human technology into the natural environment.

Julie Bahn’s work is the most directly political of the group.  She addresses human consumption of animals for food  and consumerism in One Hundred Twenty Eight Days of Protein.  A silver plate is piled high with the broken bones of consumed animals, embellished and be-dazzled by Swarovski crystals, ready to be re-cycled and re-consumed as art.  Her soft sculpture Hug Me, is a tantalizing visual enigma. The large vinyl fish with strangely human eyes hangs limply from the gallery ceiling, a glittering tag around its neck, inviting us to engage with it as a fellow creature, not just as dinner.

Artists, always the shock troops of changing cultural attitudes, are thinking hard about the way forward in our relationship with nature, and in the process creating art that resonates, questions and inspires with its beauty. The work in Thinking With Animals ably addresses the complexity and ambivalence of our evolving thoughts about animals, humans and our place in the environment.  

For more about Thinking with Animals and River House Arts, go here .  If you’d like to read more about animals and art, go here.

nature-11
One Hundred and Twenty Eight Days of Protein by Julie Bahn
Advertisements

New Fibers 2016

nf-david-braclett
Look Out by David Brackett, New Fiber 2016 First Place Prizewinner

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.

nf-liz-robb
Icelandic Hestur by Liz Robb

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.      

 

nf-teresa-paschke
Train Station with Kites by Teresa Paschke

 

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.