Tag Archives: Surrealism

A Watcher’s Skin

 

Dayna-Riemland-Watcher
Watcher, hand embroidery on cotton bed sheet, 34″ x 40″ 2016-2017

Fiber artist Dayna Riemland is haunted by the ghosts of a past that is not her own. Born  into an exiled ethnic community in Canada, she internalized from an early age the sense of dislocation and loss experienced by her grandparents.

They were Russian Mennonites,  a persecuted ethnic German religious sect related to the Dutch-German Anabaptists. The group left West Prussia around 1789 and  settled in what is now Ukraine. They thrived in their adopted country, but history overtook them, and after experiencing escalating persecution as the Communist party gained ascendance, they were finally ejected during Stalin’s regime. Fleeing families scattered to regions throughout the world:  Germany, Mexico, Bolivia, Belize, and Canada, to name a few, but would never re-unite as a community.

In A Watcher’s Skin, now on view at River House Arts Gallery through November 11, 2017, Riemland, a young artist who has no direct memory of the dislocation and trauma of exile, vicariously re-experiences it as a dream-like story that is both seductive and disquieting. Her sense of her family’s loss of home represents a kind of solastalgia, a term that describes longing for a lost time or place one has never experienced directly and that may not even exist.

Dayna-Riemland-my-seeing-skin
My Seeing Skin, hand embroidery on gloves, 11″ x 14″ 2017

The seven artworks that Riemland has created for this exhibit are modest in size and make good use of the crafts of embroidery and needlepoint she learned from her grandmother in childhood. She explores how tradition and its associated formalities and motifs “can be combined with ghosts of a collective history that has become pre-occupied with the past.” She takes fabric remnants– vintage handkerchiefs, gloves, bed sheets and pillowcases (many taken from the household of her grandmother) and labors over their surface to create images that are resonant and uncanny. Riemland’s visual vocabulary, especially  her repeated use of the unblinking eye in My Seeing Skin and in Watcher, is reminiscent in mood to the nightmarish but captivating imagery from Pan’s Labyrinth, a film by Guillermo Del Toro.  Perhaps not coincidentally, that narrative also tells the story of a child navigating an imagined world at the periphery of adult reality. Riemland likewise seems both disoriented and enchanted by her exiled grandparents’ stories of a lost and distant time and place.

Dayna-Riemland-an-inverse-tradition
An Inverse Tradition, hand embroidery on cotton pillow case, 14″ x 18″, 2017

Riemland describes the process of  embroidering as an “act that creates a devotional surface.” She begins her compositions with traditional floral and decorative motifs and moves to more fantastic imagery in the center. In Watcher, the largest piece in the show  and one which took her almost a year to complete, she begins with a frame of traditional roses and then moves inward to a many-eyed presence that seems to beckon us forward.

In An Inverse Tradition, Riemland inverts a female figure in ethnic costume, literally turning it on its head to make the familiar strange. The upside-down figure might be a visual metaphor for Riemland’s intimate yet distant experience of a vanished family history, one which can no longer be touched or experienced directly, but which haunts her and drives her creative process forward.

Dayna Riemland graduated from the  Maine College of Art with an MFA in Studio Art in 2017. She currently lives and works in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada. This is her first solo show.

 

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Susan Aaron Taylor at NCRC Galleries

Aaron-taylor-guide
Guide,  cholla cactus, shells, handmade felt, petrified wood, animal skull, agate and banded iron. 12″ x 29″ x 14″

Attractive and repellant, humorous, tragic and tortured,  the otherworldly figures created by visionary artist Susan Aaron-Taylor live on the shadowy boundaries between what we know and what we imagine. In her solo exhibition Strata, now on view in the Connections Gallery of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center, the artist pulls 14 individual figures from her unconscious mind and presents them to us, hoping to awaken the sense of a shared, but often unseen, emotional and spiritual reality.

Aaron-taylor-Unplugged
Unplugged, handmade felt, shells, electrical plug, 17″ x 18″ x 10″

Made of felt and found objects, the sculptures in this exhibition blend alchemy, dreams, rituals, mythology, and shamanism with the detritus of matter to create a persuasive but disquieting world suggestive of malevolent fairy tales or ambiguous dreams.  Aaron-Taylor claims to appropriate the power of what she calls the “shadow side”, a term of Jungian psychology referring to a “composite of personal characteristics and potentialities that have been repressed and underdeveloped in our conscious lives.” Her creatures are fetishistic archetypes, stand-ins for the unconscious, and spirit guides to unexplored psychological regions. In their combination of fabric wrapping over found natural armatures and amulet-like appliques, they strongly resemble  the mummified animals of ancient Egyptian tombs.

The figures often seem to be in pain.  In Polar Bear, the armless animal snarls as it tries usuccessfully to free its head from the rungs of a ladder. Winter Rat‘s paws are extended upward, as if to escape the implied danger of the surrounding pool. The eyes of the creatures are often hazed, and bones, claws and teeth protrude.

Aaron-taylor-Polar-Bear
Polar Bear, wood, handmade felt, geodes, porcupine quills, cabochon and beads, 19″ x 17″ x 13″

Aaron-Taylor describes her art practice: “My intense exploration of mediums and techniques over the year’s gives me the freedom to incorporate a wide range of materials.  Found wood, fleece, minerals, cactus, porcupine quills, beads, shells, bones, and kozo fiber have all been appropriated.  Blending the accumulated strata creates autobiographical narratives where rhythm, balance, and harmony invite the viewer’s participation.  My intention is to connect the spiritual and the physical worlds.”

One might wonder at the selection of this artist’s work for  a venue that is devoted to science and the pursuit of the quantifiable, but bringing provocative and thoughtful art to the NCRC’s campus is part of the gallery’s mission as described by NCRC Art Coordinator Grace Serra.  “What  I want to happen here is … not just a nice  enhancement of quality of life [or to] offer an environment that is stimulating,” she says “…but maybe some of these shows can be the catalyst for thinking differently about the problems [researchers and scientists] are solving in their labs.”  She envisions additional events relevant to the NCRC exhibition schedule and says, “I’d like a little more programming around the exhibits, so maybe we can get people thinking about what’s going on here and how it can relate [to their research].” She points out that linking the arts with the sciences is very much part of the University of Michigan’s mission. She adds, “It can help people to become global thinkers.”

Strata, located in Connections Gallery on the lower level of Building 18 of the North Campus Research Center, 2800 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor,  will be open to visitors until December 12, 2017.  The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information about the NCRC Art Program go here