Mend: love, life, & loss, featuring ten nationally recognized fiber artists, opened at the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art on Friday, October 24. Curator Mark Sloan has brought together works substantiated by a variety of non-traditional materials, such as hair, thread, fabric, paper, and plastic, many of which are marginalized by their use as craft supplies or in historically female trades. The hand crafting of these objects is essential to their meaning, and many address the body itself, examining its interior mysteriousness and the cultural assembly of form. Stitching, used as a meticulous and meditative process, reveals the rich meaning of “mend”. These artists use their works as a means of healing, but also examine or subvert the objects and concepts that they’re fixing up. Decoration becomes conceptual.
Works include the precious objects of Adrienne Antonson, made out of human hair, delicately and lovingly assembled with thread into objects like eyeglasses or worn-in gloves, gentle enough to catch flight in a light wind. Rachel Wright‘s Dream Anatomy shows a series of nightgowns, constructed like patchwork quilts of body parts, text, and texture. Pinky/MM Bass‘s nude photographs are decorated by colorful stitches that reveal organ structures, appearing like formal anecdotes of an aging body. Her performance, Pentagram of Loss, opened the exhibition like a funeral procession with a speechless soliloquy leaving absent forms in white dust on the floor.
Marilyn Pappas makes marble statues inspired by antiquity into intricately embellished large-scale cloths. In A Woman Veiled, she shows us fabric wrapped tightly around form, layers that don’t mask as they’re supposed to, and a hand that offers a dress edge like a mass of nerve endings. Leslie Kneisel‘s soft velvet pillows have cartoon heroines embroidered with the spontaneity and playfulness of a line drawing. If used, the sleeper would find his face smothering the bristly tarantula legs of a dominatrix in Sexpot Doreen or on a plump rock ledge accompanying the gnarly spread finger-toes of a woman-thing with nipples too erect to be erotic in Spider Girl goes to Dicklund. Kneisel repeatedly uses the tarantula as a motif, a creature whose gangly fighting-style mating habits lack submissive sexiness, as an integral allegory in her feminist experimentation.
Susan Harbage Page collects and alters embroideries from anonymous women, which she says are historically undervalued as objects and represent “uncontested space” for women to work. Some of her works contain slogans written in pretty script like “I hid my success in the dresser drawer” but others use figuration, like Control, which shows a bold unfeminine hand holding nooses of thread on hoop-skirted faceless ladies, and Iraq, which shows a geopolitical map of the region in baby blue and pink with flowers. Nava Lubelski subverts the process of mending, and simultaneously her role as a woman who mends as she collects stained or tattered fabric, reworking them with appreciation for their existing imperfections. Her process is about formal experimentation and reclaiming an ugly space or unusable object.
Other works include Mireille Vautier‘s embroidered plastic bags, constructed into decorated clothing-like objects, Jon Coffelt‘s Memory Clothes, a series of miniature shirts made as portraits, and Preston Orr‘s acrylic collages, which use materials such as caviar and hay. Inspired by Damien Hirst, Orr assents that “art is like medicine – it can heal,” a sentiment carried through all the works in Mend. The exhibition is on display until December 5th.