Tina Hirsig dares to dream 

Wish List

What's the use in wishing on a falling star? You close your eyes, cross your fingers, and offer up a request, hoping that it will be granted. But beyond the initial thrill of the moment, the wish will likely go unfulfilled. However, for artist and art educator Tina Hirsig, expressing those wishes can provide a jumping off point for a good discussion.

This month she invited educators to her engrossing show at Plum Elements. Some of them wrote their own thoughts and wishes on strips of fabric that were then tied to a wishing line, installed in the center of Hirsig's exhibition space. Now those wishes have become part of the show, hanging from the line like fragile off-white leaves wrapped around a horizontal vine. They're marked with pleas for world peace, better educational opportunities, and more personal desires. Like other pieces in the show, the wishing line is tactile, functional, and good-looking.

The artist constantly sees parallels in art and education, seeking ways to make both fields more interactive and not just demonstrative. A separate series invites visitors to open cabinet doors to view the art within. There's a good practical element to these pieces. Don't have enough room to display several pieces of art in your home? Hirsig has the answer, condensing several ideas into each cabinet of curiosities.

Open the door into one of these worlds and you'll see a heady mix of the familiar and the fanciful — curious, playful children running through a landscape of marshes, star maps, and circuitry. Using mixed-media collage, Hirsig uses objects and images to symbolize themes and feelings. Tiny, slender-winged birds represent the delicacy of nature in "I Wish for Our Children to Know How to Care for The Planet." Blocks, electronic circuits, dice, and a triangle emblematize math and technological development in "I Wish that Our Children Will Be Encouraged to Be Inventive."

Hirsig uses a time-consuming technique to create her landscapes, star charts, and other backgrounds. Initially a painter, she decided that she wanted to create transparencies. She discovered an artist who used photographic transfer methods, researched the process on the internet, and applied it to her own work.

First, she takes a photo, sometimes altering it in Photoshop. Then she takes it to a professional copier and gets a color copy made. She adds a matte medium onto the surface and puts the photo ink side down onto a layer of glue. Then she lets it dry for up to 24 hours (so it "cures"), adds water on top of the paper, and rubs it off. The ink sets into the glue, leaving a distinct image that has an aged quality. It's an effective process that allows her to add several layers.

Hirsig also includes small objects — doll parts in a box, grass, and straw — to give her collages an even more three-dimensional quality. The outcome is part keepsake, part fine art. All of it can be hung on a wall, from the rectangular "I Wish" series to the different-sized cabinets.

Hirsig has obviously put a lot of time and thought into these pieces. The colors carefully complement each other, and although there's always a lot going on, every assemblage is wrapped around a solid idea that stops it from getting too cluttered. "I Wish for Our Children to Be Seen as Wise" is a good example. Text, fabric, feathers, and grains of sand are all neatly aligned to represent the pursuit of wisdom. "Compassion" lines up shells, some painted with human figures and their shadows. Add nets, hands, and maps on a blue background, and you get pertinent references to the kindness, patience, and continual sense of discovery involved in a familial relationship.

There are lots of silhouettes, many depicting her own sons at play. Since faces are shown rarely, if at all, viewers are able to imagine their own children or themselves in younger days in place of the original subjects. Not all of the metaphorical imagery is subtle, but there's a universal quality to the collages that increases their appeal. In "I Wish for Our Children to Experience Loving Relationships," a small hand is held by an older, adult one. "Intuition" features wires and a keyboard backed by a photo transfer of leafy tree branches, conjuring up our contrasting life experiences of work and natural surroundings.

Hirsig's wish for open-minded teachers and administrators won't always be fulfilled. At best, she'll encourage others to dream and question the status quo of our school system. As an educator, she feels that she doesn't have much of a voice, so she expresses her opinions through her art. If that's the case, then she's expressed herself eloquently at Plum Elements.

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