STITCH IN TIME
New Orleans, LA
BY KATHY RODRIGUEZ
IN A 2001 New York Times article, author Rita Reif recounts an
early period in the career of Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.
Just after 1956, Abakanowicz married and moved into an apartment
measuring about 130 square feet that served as both home to
the couple and studio to the artist. The space was too small for
stretched canvas, and no resources existed for sculpture. Abakanowicz
turned to what she describes as "the world of fiber," a realm
unbound from tradition and limitless in its possibilities. Next
came her monumental abakans, which found fame during the
crafts movement of the 1960s.
Abakanowicz turned to the medium to solve a problem in
her practice. It met her need. Fiber is practical like this; its variety
of applications includes protection, enclosure, concealment,
warmth, illustration, or fashion. The process of weaving or stitching
literally links these disparate functions. Stitches themselves are
conceptually unlimited - they are more than a needle pulling
thread. Too much laughter brings stitches to the sides, and words
stitch together thoughts by some indescribable process of organization.
Two exhibits at Antenna Gallery have considered the vast
and various processes and concepts related to fiber. In 2008, the
work of seven artists in the exhibit Stitch explored the process of
creating art objects with fibers. Susan Gisleson, who curated the
exhibit, suggested this process paralleled the ways information is
disseminated, and that the form of fiber is directly linked to ideas
about communication. For some, this kind of communication is
the essence of art.
More recently, Gisleson and fellow artist and Antenna
member Laura Gipson curated the second iteration on this theme,
Stitch in Time. In this manifestation of the theme, the work specifically
addresses content inherent in the process of stitching, particularly
in terms of time and connection. Weaving and sewing both
have a certain meditative quality to them, slowing time in their
practice. Also, fiber fundamentally involves connectedness. As is
often suggested by the work of Christo and Jeanne Claude, there is
no amount of physical or metaphoric space that cannot be joined in
some way, and the use of fibers is the most accessible means.
To accommodate larger areas of content, the original, all female
list expanded threefold. Emerging artists and male counterparts
joined some of the artists from the first exhibit. Their work
packed the gallery space: two- and three-dimensional pieces in
most imaginable media descended from ceilings, mounted pedestals,
projected in videos, and hung on the walls. Walking through
the cramped gallery was like weaving through fine pathways left
between the threads of the artwork framed by the gaIlery waIls.
Gipson and Gisleson curated each other for the exhibit.
Both treat the subject of motherhood, a theme closely linked with
the content of fiber, through a combination of traditional sewing
and unconventional forms. Gipson's Wail and Angry Baby take
screaming children as subject matter. Gipson draws with the
thread, leaving loose strands that read like cacophony emitting
from their gaping maws. The drawing, on silk, floats above indiscernible
layers of text - a palimpsest that suggests white noise.
The piece has architectural structure, and tension fills the negative
space between the two surfaces. But warm, motherly love is imbued
in the stitches, which embroider the design of even her most
difficult moments. Gisleson 's sculptural piece strings bubble packets
dotted with birth control pills and imagery and text about reproduction.
The stitch physically links the parts of the piece, but overall,
and in line with the content of the exhibit, the work evinces
ideas of counting and timing. It evokes the process of knitting, or
methodically counting each day and pill, or perhaps even prayers
rubbed along a strand of beads. Each process has to do with planning
and preparation for, or against, motherhood, in physical and
The surprising ways Gipson and Gisleson employ stitches
are paralleled by their inclusion of video. The medium of video
could be read as a process of weaving or stitching together single
images into one, complex layer. Amanda Cassingham's 10,000
Buttons might serve as such a visual metaphor. In this piece, thread
weaves scattered buttons into a growing mass under the gentle direction
of a voice-over, much like a teachable moment on Sesame
Street. Bob Snead's The Fix/When All Else Fails falls within a nar-
rative tradition - an aspect of both film and fiber. The video hiI.
ariously traces the decline of Snead 's sewing machine and the
ensuing trials in completing his project. Some passages are painfully
long, arousing the keen frustration peculiar to persistence in
the face of defeat. In the end, there is catharsis. Despite the smoke,
and the jams, and the multiple machines, Snead finally finishes a
sewn soft sculpture: a Singer sewing machine. Then he throws it
out of his window after kicking it to death.
Snead's piece is a metaphor for the practice of art itself.
Though it can be extremely rewarding, often the studio is a war
zone. Battles rage between the artist and the object, and the world
that the artwork eventually meets. But, it is that process that imbues
the work with meaning, again, like Christo. Fiber work in any
form is extremely process-oriented, and the variety of interpretations
on that theme is present in the Stitch series. The fact that the
gallery produced a second version of the show is proof. It is dubi-
ous whether the question of fiber as fine art is still relevant, and
this exhibit makes a strong case for blurring the distinction.
New Orleans Art Review Fall/Winter 2011-2012
St. Claude Exposed
Pair of CAC Exhibits Spotlight Blooming Downtown Art Scene
by Brad Rhines
Things came full circle in the New Orleans world of contemporary art Saturday night.
The Contemporary Arts Centerfirst founded in 1976 as an artist-run, artist-driven community organization in a downtrodden neighborhood, and now sitting at the bustling center of the citys museum and arts districthosted the newest crop of artist-run, artist-driven galleries, most of them from the up-and-coming St. Claude arts district. Two concurrent exhibitions highlight work from six galleries: Spaces: Antenna, The Front, Good Children Gallery occupies the second floor galleries of the CAC, and EXPOSE: Parse Gallery, Staple Goods Collective, T-LOT features displays in the museums St. Joseph Street windows. These shows catch a community on the cusp, artists and galleries growing up before our very eyes.
The artists working primarily in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods existed for some time in a vacuum, free from the influence of the capital-A Art World and beholden only to the tastes and critiques of themselves and their peers. As these communities emerge from the shadows and into the limelightthanks to international events like Prospect New Orleans and media attention from outlets like the New York Times, not to mention collaborations like this one at the CACsome tension is to be expected.
On opening night, the Spaces exhibition was dominated by a performance piece just beyond the entrance to the CACs upstairs galleries. Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, known collectively as Generic Art Solutions (G.A.S), represented the Good Children Gallery with their work Monopoly, which featured the two artists in top hats, tails, monocles, and moustaches, perched atop a riser and engaged in a game of Monopoly. The modified board game had the two moneymen buying up real estate in the upper Ninth Ward, while oversized Chance and Community Chest cards dictated turns of fortune. Youve been selected to be a Prospect.3 artist, or Joan Mitchell Foundation grant represented upswings in cash flow, while downfalls included Another rent hike or You got too drunk at the opening and missed a sale.
Another popular attraction was See St. Claude, by artist Ryan Watkins-Hughes from The Front. In this interactive piece, a small alcove featured an over-sized photo print from St. Claude Avenue of a weathered, graffiti-tagged door beneath a dilapidated awning. The print was positioned as a backdrop where guests could take pictures. An accompanying how-to poster, labeled See St. Claude! 1-2-3 encouraged amateur shutterbugs to zoom in and crop to make it realistic!
These two works are indicative of a certain attitude about the bourgeoning St. Claude corridor. As artists in the neighborhood begin to gain recognition, accusations of gentrification and appropriation start flowing. While a territorial stance of defensive posturing is understandable, to argue that the scene on St. Claude is over-exposed and its value over-inflated, particularly within the exhibition, only seems to undermine the credibility that so many of the artists and galleries have worked to achieve.
As this community on the fringes of the citys art world comes to terms with the transition to a bigger stage, rebelling against such recognition seems more like a knee-jerk reaction, a cool hipster pose, rather than legitimate criticism, particularly when its staged deep within the walls of the institution. Though clever and attention-grabbing, the heavy-handedness of these pieces threatens to overshadow other works on the gallery walls.
The tension of a scene in flux is handled more deftly though a window display by Staple Goods in the EXPOSE exhibition, which features a collage of hand-lettered supermarket signs offering deals on sliced bacon, hot jalapenos, and cut green beans. The effect recalls the proto-pop paintings of Stuart Davis or the supermarket stylings of Andy Warhol. But while artists of that era were celebrating wide-scale commerce, commercialism, and the homogenization of culture, the work by Staple Goods evokes a more local mom-and-pop aesthetic that cements a neighborhoods identity. While such an aesthetic might be a bygone relic in the age of Whole Foods and upscale Rouses Supermarkets, its an image of daily life that still existsat least for nowin the upper Ninth Ward.
Other than these few big pieces, Spaces and EXPOSE dont really have any sort of central theme, aside perhaps from a general sense of youthful whimsy. Alex Podestas installation of bearded bunny men might be familiar to those who remember similar statues posted along the ledge of the old Falstaff Brewery back in 2010. Here, in Self-Portrait as Bunnies (The Scientists), one life-sized bearded man in a bunny suit is down on all fours poking a plastic snake with a stick while his twin looks on, consulting a guide to snakes and amphibians.
Also here are Laura Gipsons paper shovels, titled Drop It, which we first saw at Taint Modern, this time hanging from the ceiling in a suspended state of free fall. The delicate representations of iron and wood tools dangle in an apparent advance of a loud clattering, creating a tension of what is and what seems to be.
More subtle, detail-oriented work lines the walls, like Andrea Fergusons series of Family of Manimals, which consists of lovingly illustrated acrylic transfers on wood roundsbark still intact and rings showing throughfeaturing oddities like a raccoon inventor or an eagle and terrier sharing a continental breakfast.
Ultimately, a lot of great art is on display at the CAC, and the talent exhibited warrants the attention that these galleries have been getting. The show is a reminder of just how vibrant an arts community we have in New Orleans, and how essential these artist-centered galleries are to fostering a collective culture. While the CACs scattershot approach to representing the galleries makes the show somewhat incoherent, a patient visitor who looks closely at, but also beyond, a few dominating pieces, will be rewarded with some of the best contemporary art the city has to offer.
Space is on view through June 10, while Expose is on view through Oct. 7.
AUTHOR: NATALIE SCIORTINO-RINEHART
09.13.08-10.19.08 Antenna Gallery
Despite this exhibitions title and all-female list of local participants, curator Susan Gisleson presents a narrative that reaches beyond simple gender declaratives to richness, subtlety, and irony. The metaphor of the stitcha process turned objectprovides seemingly infinite points of interface between artist and material, and stitches themselves serve as agents of restoration and re-creation, whether it be through mending a lost seam or fashioning a new habitation.
Life and death, creation and destruction, are more than simply overused conceptual themes when considered in the midst of an inescapably incongruous New Orleans landscapefrom life among the ruins. The fusion of opposites that threatens an already tenuous equilibrium is evident in works like Stitch House, 2007, by Laura Gipson. A towering wooden structure held together by violent wire sutures and resting on metal casters, it recalls elements of regional shotgun architecture while also bearing an unmistakable resemblance to caskets. The top nearly topples over on this exaggerated container for both the living and the dead, its balancing act playfully imperiled by the overall mobility of the work. The strange skirted, larval, and candlelike forms of Anne Boudreaus sculptures also flirt with this mortal existence. In 3 wishes, 2008, a trio of seemingly weightless forms with warmly ocher-colored holders fan out around curving wicks like floral anatomy. Sharply contrasted with the nearly spiritual vigilance of Boudreaus work is the clever naturalism found within Jenny LeBlancs solo performance piece Cuts, 2008. The viewer/voyeur is left with a fascinating installation comprising the aftermath of the artists surgically obsessive printmaking run. The inherently self-conscious and obsessive nature of the stitch is also beautifully brought to light by the thick wall-based works of Gina Phillips and Christine Sauer, the rich texture and symbolism of Cynthia Scotts pomegranate-skinned vessel, and the intricate and elaborate phantasmagoric installation work of Kourtney Keller.