Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Art of Wrapping, Binding, and More

Wrapping, binding, evoke ancient religious rituals from Mesoamerica or far away countries like Egypt. Famous contemporary artists like Jean-Claude and Christo (who passed away this month), appealed by its aesthetic qualities, rejuvenated the practice on a grand scale. Closer to home, eleven artists who incorporate the symbolic gestures in their body of work have been selected by Bradley Sumrall, curator at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, for the exhibition Entwined: Ritual Wrapping and Binding in Contemporary Southern Art. Following its press release in February, the long awaited show is finally open to the public who can interact with more than fifty works including installations, sculptures and paintings.

After walking through a Southern decor of exuberant trees, the visitor reaches the first gallery lined up on both sides by three black knotted brooms hanging from the ceiling. At the other end, a couple of grinding stones decorated with a full length portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe cast in glass complete the funerary display. The objects-symbols reflect the cosmopolitan background of the artist. Raised in Mexico, Susan Plum was exposed to  Catholic religion, shamanism, and also Buddhism while travelling in South India. Luz y Solidaridad  created in memory of the victims of femicide in the vicinity of Juarez, Mexico, reaches well beyond borders, cultures and time. Through a process liken to alchemy, Ed Williford transforms found objects in thrift stores or hardware stores into magical creatures and abstract compositions. More than a dozen of his earthy colored works are displayed on pedestals and along the walls of his allotted space. Combining skills and imagination, the Mississippi artist recreates nature's perfection through his exoskeletons-like sculptures made with abandoned material revived through a laborious process of assembling, twisting, knotting, binding, staining, gluing, influenced by the discipline and rigor of minimalism.
In the next section, the three decorated brooms from Friendswood Brooms displayed on the wall illustrate a tradition born in the mid-eighteenth century while opposite, the installation from Elizabeth Shannon invites the visitor to reflect upon nature's bounty evoked by wood poles wrapped in fabric, growing on the wall like palmetto... with a twist: a black bird, a touch of red like blood, metal photogravure plates from Josephine Saccabo's studio for a horizon filled with hope. Re-Seeking Horizons conveys subtle hints more powerful than blunt statements. Sonya Yong James reminds us that white is also a color of mourning, and her tapestry draped along the whole length of the next passage is dedicated to the victims of the recent pandemic, police brutality and more. A detailed wall text describes the practice of  the fiber artist from Atlanta and its sources, material and spiritual. Sharon Kopriva' s Italian catholic background influences her work (graphite and collage) in which she depicts females like secular saints reaching a sort of ecstasy while discarding their bondage. The Red Headed Witness, 2020, is a portrait of  the recently deceased artist Nancy Redding Kienholz draped in a shroud made of white doves and two female torsos sculpted with coiled rope complete the display.
A solemn bust introduces Kristin Meyer's show which features more than a dozen of her smaller pieces compared to those selected for her exhibition Into the Light at Delgado Fine Arts Gallery or Sistema for Louisiana Contemporary last Summer. Gathering material, leaving it "ferment", wrapping, binding, are part of the process to create sculptures radiating spiritual energy. Pieces like Rob's Foot, 2018, or Eye, 2018, remind of votive offerings in Sicilian churches and Charon, 2016, with a title from the Greek mythology has also Voodoo connotations. The blending of references makes Meyers's practice well ensconced in the city known for its diverse heritage. Egg tempera, the medium for the five paintings from the multi-disciplinary artist Susan Jamison is fitting for the delicate pink lace decorations adorning perfectly smooth female bodies. Bound with pretty ribbons or in corset, surrounded by birds, butterflies or ... wolves, they belong to a dream or a fairy tale. As the works from  Jeffrey Cook (1961-2009) take more patina over the years they are more relevant than ever. Each piece deserves to be looked at as a link between its African roots, the city's history and current events. The exhibition ends on a bright note with the colored fiber art from Sarah Zapata. The Peruvian-American artist stated "I wanted to make work that's overtly female and overtly handmade. Like I am performing how I'm theoretically supposed to", revealing the deep personal and cultural conflicts that feed her practice.

One cannot avoid noticing that only two male artists are included in the show, most likely reflecting a gender disparity in the field of fiber art and also in the ritual act of wrapping and binding. Fiber art is still considered by too many a crafty occupation on the fringe of art (no pun intended). The exhibition with its informative wall texts shows that each individual practice is built on the artist's personal journey enriched by its cultural heritage. Featuring eleven artists, it does not feel like a group show due to the setting which allows to fully appreciate each of them, one at a time.
The exhibition is one of the compelling reasons to visit the Ogden ASAP.


photographs by the author:

Susan Plum "Luz y Solidaridad"
Kristin Meyers "Charon", 2016
Ed Williford "Articualated Sphere Over Perforated Platform", 2012