by Betty Vera
photo courtesy of The Memorial Art Gallery
In the auditorium at The Memorial Art Gallery, Jeanne Raffer Beck ended her evening lecture on May 12th with a quote from the choreographer Martha Graham. “Keep the channel open”, wrote Graham, and it is appropriate to mention that when you visit exhibitions like the Fiber Art International now on view at The Memorial Art Gallery your idea of what fiber art actually is will be seriously updated. Jeanne Beck commented that she was “trying to not make her work look too pretty”, but this does not stress the aesthetic sense she brings to her art which is driven by texture and mark making with thread.
Fiber art is more than just weaving of course, but weaving itself is given a major boost in the art of Betty Vera. Weaving is an ancient form of digital art: it works on a grid ( the warp and weft ) and it can be layered. Betty Vera was trained as a painter, but now employs a digital loom to weave images that appear like textured photographs – her art is all about light. At the MAG, Betty Vera won an award for “Gesture” ( see above ) which is a racy blue mixture of cotton and rayon and the complex patterning is an achievement in Jacquard damask. This was the same technique that appeared in two similar works on view recently at The Rochester Contemporary Art Center.
Computer guided looms manage intricate patterns, and we have seen the influx of this in some of the clothes we wear. Once patterns were strictly geometric ( to go along with the warp and weft ), but now a pattern could be anything. I enjoyed “Funny Face” a digital inkjet print on silk satin hanging as a pair in the gallery by artist Hitoshi Ujiie. “5 Generations of Virtue” by Lisa Lee Peterson, also has this photographic look in her woven panels whose focus is on Asian women and their costumes.
Alighiero Boetti, a member of the Arte Povera movement in Italy created many woven works before his death in 1994. Often these woven “paintings” included maps and letters of the alphabet, and this might have been the inspiration for a large colorful creation called “Reconstruction” by the Japanese artist Mami Idei. The visual legacy of ideas and how they travel could be the subtext of the Fiber Art International exhibition. Another example of this would be the delicate batik created for “Kimono Windy” by the German artist Maria Schade. Are those goldfish or fallen leaves in a pond?
Given the events in the world, it is not surprising that the human condition is evoked by award winning art such as Erin Endicott’s “Healing Sutra” ( Best in Show ). This delicate work of embroidery looks like a diagram of a heart attack, and it finds correlations to other human forms in the exhibit – most notably the use of x-rays in the “Humanoids” which hang in the main gallery by French artist Brigitte Amarger.
When fiber art becomes truly three dimensional and begins to occupy our space the sculptural impact can be very powerful as with Stephanie Metz’s felt work “Muscle Heifer”. I also found myself mesmerized by the knotting in Joh Ricci’s “Indian Summer” which looks like peas in a pod – and also Rebecca Siemering’s suit of clothes “American Made”.
Jeanne Beck opened her talk at the Memorial Art Gallery by reciting the parable of the blind men in India describing what they thought an elephant must be like. One blind man hugged the animal’s leg and said that an elephant must be like a cylinder, another had the tail and said no – the elephant was like a rope, finally another put his hands on the elephants belly – and said it was like a wall. “Trying to describe art is like that”, said Jeanne Beck, it all depends on your perspective. The trick is to keep the channels open.