Tansey Contemporary, Santa Fe
May 18–June 17, 2018
The title of this fiber-art exhibition smacks of redundancy—if you couldn’t guess, it’s about memory—but it’s surprisingly economical in other respects. Recall, Recapture, Remember features twenty-two artists from across the Southwest, selected by the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center through a hybrid jurying and curatorial process. In practice, this ambitious concept folds into just two rooms of Tansey Contemporary, which are also jam-packed with sculptures that have nothing to do with the show. Dimensional non sequiturs puncture the visual space of dazzlingly detailed fiber artworks at nearly every turn. Ah, Canyon Road.
Dodge through the crossfire, and you’ll discover a deft state of the union address from the region’s contemporary fiber arts community. The array of techniques and materials on display is staggering, and all of the artists flex their technical mastery to reveal the vast conceptual possibilities of fiber. Just inside the front door is Judith Trager’s Sunrise Redwall Canyon, which has the appearance of an exploded quilt. Angular squares of colorful fabric form a fringed waterfall, capturing the hues, textures, light, and shadows of a stroll through a slot canyon. It’s an introduction to one of the show’s clearest thematic threads: recollections of the natural world.
Charlotte Ziebarth explores similar terrain in her quilted silk wall hanging, Half Moon Bay. The work is a soft mosaic divided into ink-dyed fields of blue, green, and brown—an abstract impression of a watery place that could be truer than a photograph. Linda Gleeson weaves an image of desert dunes in mohair, alpaca, wool, silk, and cotton. Her palette evokes a moonlit night, with wavy pools of white fiber that tuft out from the composition like fingers of sand caught in a cool breeze. Melody Money’s Wind in the Meadow Grasses is a horizonless sea of green, composed with hand-embroidered cotton and rayon thread atop pleated silk chiffon.
Each of these works hangs relatively flush to the wall but uses the dimensionality of fiber to communicate rich sensory information about its subject. It’s as though a painter had discovered a way to enchant individual brushstrokes out from the picture plane to catch the light and air. There’s an innate sculptural topography at play in fiber artworks, and this property is never wasted here. Abstract weavings by Jennifer Moore and Amanda Speer are strong examples of this: they could be cropped to the size of a postage stamp and still pack a compositional punch.
Then there’s more overtly sculptural work, which arguably steals the show. Jason Ripper’s Blood and Bone, a dimensional, eight-foot-tall human skeleton made from tiny dolls in white, tan, and crimson, is particularly exciting. His material is clothing once worn by him or his family members, and he made the piece in the wake of his mother’s death. Frayed fibers become proxies for inherited genetic material, still present in the artist’s body despite the departure of one of its originators.
Equally visceral is Georgia, Alfred, MC and Me by Catherine Hicks, an embroidery with silk and metallic fiber on black velvet. Two hands stretch towards each other, wielding real needles that prod ruby-red wounds on a finger and palm. The sculptural elements are two white strings, threaded on the needles and projecting from the face of the velvet. The piece reads as an incisive allegory for the bizarre and painful dynamic between Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Maria Chabot. The latter was O’Keeffe’s frequent summer companion at Ghost Ranch, and their winter correspondence (available in a thick volume at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum gift shop) is worth a read.
All of this adds up to a quietly brilliant show that’s only dampened by the clutter. The subtler or more densely detailed works in the exhibition can’t quite sing, because nothing has room to breathe. Tansey has another chance to get it right: Recall, Recapture, Remember will travel to the gallery’s Denver location for a second run, July 7 through August 5. This survey is compact—and that’s one of its strengths—but it needs permission to unfurl.