Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Piece Work" at Portland Museum of Art

While visiting the Maine shore on the holiday weekend, I spent some time at the "Piece Work" show at the Portland Museum of Art. I think much of the work in the show would resonate with those of us who work in fibre.

This show is the eighth consecutive biennial of its kind, showcasing work by living artists with a Maine connection. The title of the show, "Piece Work", reminds viewers of the "relentless process of making, building, and configuring materials. While industrial piecework is less common than it once was in the United States, the concept evokes the historical notions of intense handwork and the assembly of complex items from multiple parts. It also describes an artistic movement that is particularly resonant in Maine."

The posted description of the show continues, "Many artists are returning to process driven, accumulative practices, in which objects and images are built, measured, manipulated and amassed over months, sometimes years. In addition, many of the artists translate one medium to another (and sometimes back again) as a crucial step in the process of creation: drawing becomes sculpture; photographs translate into drawings; textiles merge into paper." Incidentally, there was not a single painting in oil, acrylic, watercolour or pastel in the show. There were two series of drawings. and some photography in the collection.

Library, Abbie Read
Shown above is my favourite piece in the show, Library by Abbie Read. It is made of books and found objects, and measures about 15 feet wide and 6 feet high. I could have spent an hour studying it.
detail, Library, Abbie Read
The label beside the work reads, "Abbie Read's Library is a patchwork of antique and handmade books suggesting the folk-art aesthetic of quilting and Renaissance cabinets of curiosities, but it also recalls the tradition of collage, which is associated with avant-garde art of the 20th century. Read, a bookmaker and well-known landscape designer, has created a veritable topography of intricately wrought books."

detail, Library, Abbie Read

Love Letter Sweater, Crystal Cawley
Another work in paper is shown above. What appears to be a garment is in fact unwearable. It is woven of shredded love letters. Made by Crystal Cawley, it suggests that one might be enveloped by the love expressed in the letters, just as one could be wrapped in the comfort of an oversized garment.
Echolocation, Carrie Scanga
"For several years, printmaker and installation artist Carrie Scanga lived on Portland's Eastern Promenade and eagerly watched party boats sail past her home. The boat in Echolocation is an imagined replica, its form structured by memory rather than literal transcription.

detail, Echolocation, Carrie Scanga
"Scanga situated the boat in a 'sea' of printed, cut and folded paper, creating an ambiguously dark and tumultuous environment within which the hefty vessel reigns."

If you are anything like me, you are ambivalent about the exquisite, traditional embroideries so often on display in museums, especially those made by girls as young as seven or eight. While I marvel at the mastery of technical skills required to produce these fine works, I deplore the limited choices for young women of their era, and wonder what coercion they may have been subjected to in their acquisition of these skills. I don't know any seven-year-olds who would naturally turn to making such detailed work.

ABC lessons for new age young ladies, Allison Cooke Brown
Here, "Allison Cooke Brown uses the materials of traditional women's handiwork to tug at the social conventions and gender rituals suggested by vernacular forms such as embroidery, lace-making, and cross-stitch. A widely-recognized fiber artist, Cooke Brown seems to delight in upending the implied, but often unspoken, social mores of such feminine items as delicate handkerchiefs and white gloves. In her ABC series, she embeds functional Quick Response (QR) codes in handkerchiefs that make explicit - and therefore undermine - ladylike social virtues: the codes work, so you can read them with an equipped cell phone."
detail, ABC lessons for new age young ladies, Allison Cooke Brown
I wonder about the forces in today's society that have prompted these 29 artists in "Piece Work" to turn to "slower" processes and a greater emphasis on materiality in their work.

1 comment:

Dianne Robinson said...

thanks for the view of the exhibit. Maybe we are moving from what my tutor called the "post skills" era that allowed the likes of Tracy Eamon to flourish, back into technical mastery as well artistic ability.