VISUAL ARTS REVIEW: Mend: Love, Life & Loss

Embroidered Truth: Mend is a modern use of old-fashioned threads

Mend: Love, Life & Loss

On display through Dec. 5


Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

54 St. Philip St.

(843) 953-5680

Some art shows are thrown together, others are carefully woven. Curated by Mark Sloan, director of the Halsey Institute, Mend is held fast by a seam symbolizing the fragility of life in general and the female body in particular.

The show’s focal point is an installation called “Pentagram of Loss.” It’s an attempt by artist Pinky/MM Bass to come to terms with the deaths of five close friends and relatives in five years. She uses the five sides of her pentagram to mark each person’s passing.

They’re given their own space, but they’re also connected by the sides of the pentagram and a crocheted “umbilical cord” above them. Pinky’s sense of loss is evident. Her loved ones seem far away, but the little things that connect her to them — an old piece of furniture, a ball of twine, a half-remembered yarn — keep them close.

It’s hard to get the full effect of the artwork up close. I recommend climbing the stairs in the Halsey and looking down on the piece from above to get the full emotional impact. That way you can see the sad blank spaces where the bodies should be.

While you’re on the stairs, you’ll see an assembly of tiny shirts, all with different patterns and colors. According to artist Jon Coffelt, each hand-sewn item of clothing represents a person’s memory.

Because we don’t know the people or their memories, this work is relevant to them alone. Only the scale of the work is impressive — there are dozens of miniature garments strung along the wall, like wash day in a doll factory.

Close to the miniature gear, Marilyn Pappas’ tapestries depict Grecian statues and urns, suggesting a civilization destroyed by conflict. Text such as “At What Cost Victory?” and a series title (“History Lesson”) help to get her point across ­— we have to learn from the mistakes of past civilizations if we don’t want to be lost just like them.

Yet there is still great poetry in the most battered, timeworn artworks. “A Woman Veiled” is Pappas’ most effective homage to beautiful ruins, with the shadows cast by a statue and urn adding depth to the two-dimensional linen.

Decaying cultures are also represented in Nava Lubelski’s embroidery. She presents continents as stains on the oceans of the earth, there to be spoiled, mended, or replaced.

There are intriguing holes in the canvas, and the viewer is left with a sense that borders and landmasses have been eaten away by time and sociopolitical change. The vibrant blue, grey, and blood red colors also suggest that this is the work of an acid-tripping cartographer.

While Pappas and Lubelski explore the big picture, some of their fellow artists look within. Pinky, Mireille Vautier, and Rachel Wright all use internal organ images, with varying levels of effect. Pinky’s viscera are stitched in brightly colored embroidery thread, contrasting with the shell of a black-and-white photographed body in “Contemplating my Internal Organs.”

Unlike real human innards, she keeps the threads neat and symmetrical — presumably in an attempt to overcome her feelings for the nasty inspiration behind the series, her sister’s cancer.

Mend also features the work of Adrienne Antonson, Leslie Kneisel, Preston Orr, and Susan Harbage Page. The group show has enough cohesion to create an overall sense of introspection and the loss of a way of life, when embroidery was one of the most popular (and socially acceptable) ways for women to express themselves. Decades later, these artists are finding new ways to use fiber as an art form.

If you drop into the Halsey to catch this show, be sure to take a look down the corridor as well. There you’ll find the CofC Studio Art Department’s “New Works,” the latest example of imaginative work that students have been producing recently.

There are particularly strong pieces from Parker Sullivan, Courtney Peterson, and Marshall Thomas, and the quality of the exhibition bodes well for next year’s Halsey showcase for students, Young Contemporaries.

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