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Fibers at Madison-Morgan, an Engaging Survey of the Medium

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Johana Moscoso, ah-moor, 2012, hand and machine embroidery. 120″ x 90″. Image courtesy Lilly Lampe.

The arts in Georgia often ascribe to a certain Atlanta-centrism, leaving many galleries and sites in outlying areas ignored. Yet these galleries and centers are very much in communication with the art being made in Atlanta. Berry College’s Moon Gallery in Rome, Georgia, has held solo exhibitions by Atlanta artists such as Emory University’s Linda Armstrong. The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center is another site curating shows with an eye to what is happening in Atlanta and other communities. Fibers, currently on view at Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, showcases artists from across the country, all with wildly different approaches to this medium.

Georgia Museum of Art

This show was a return to Madison for curator Angela Nichols, director of education and public programs at the Hudgens Center for the Arts, who was curator at The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center from 2004 until 2008. To put together Fibers, Nichols reached out to artists she knew and respected for suggestions, drawing out a network of 15 artists working in a theme of fiber.

The artworks fill three rooms of the second floor of the cultural center, a¬†beautifully restored nineteenth-century public school building. Several Atlanta and Athens artists are in the show, as well as artists from Chicago, Virginia, and New York state. Some of the artists apply traditional techniques like knitting and embroidery to conceptual works, while others respond to cultural expectations of their craft, encouraging snags and imperfections in the texture. Others use unconventional materials, like Amandine Drouet’s use of plastic bags and rings to create floating installations like synapses.

Leisa Rich, (back to front) Hippie Pot: Buttoned Up, and Hippie Pot: Prison Break, 2012, dimensions variable, recycled sweaters, embroidery floss, yarn, ribbon, metal wire; hand embroidered, stitched and constructed. Image courtesy Lilly Lampe.

The works reveal a range of techniques and materials, as well as a range of themes. Take Atlanta-artist Leisa Rich’s Hippie Pots, an assorted selection of deconstructed sweaters knit over wire frames to resemble tea pots. Rich’s Hippie Pots subvert traditional ideas of handicraft. They resemble tea cozies for teapots but are neither, defying the functionality of those objects. In contrast, Eric Mercer’s Reflection, an installation featuring televisions with crocheted slip-covers, plays with this theme. Reflection reimagines the functional but outdated tea cozy as social commentary, fashioning it into an item that visually mutes televisions and in turn insulates our eyes.

Eric Mercer, Reflection, 60″ x 26″ x 21″, crochet over televisions. Image courtesy Lilly Lampe.

Johana Moscoso’s Boh-goh-tah ee Chicago, 2012, and ah-moor, 2012, confront the artist’s Latin heritage and Resident Alien status through mesmerizing embroideries. The works are vaguely sensual, featuring bright red lips in red and meandering lines of machine-embroidery in red and black. The works reference her family’s background as tailors in Columbia, as well as pronunciation guides to the places she’s lived, and the Spanish word for love. The embroideries become complex maps of a disembodied self moving through physical and emotional worlds. Didi Dunphy’s works address different concerns of lineage. Her highly meticulous embroideries are traditional in technique—tautly framed in embroidery hoops, ringed in lace—but mimic in pattern the paintings of Frank Stella and Piet Mondrian. Dunphy’s statement describes Stella and Mondrian as male artists in the studio, compared with female artists in the home with sewing boxes. Her intention is to “make the monumental miniature,” confronting the male-dominated past (and present, if we’re being completely honest).

Despite their different styles of embroidery, both Moscoso and Dunphy use their medium to effectively confront personal or historical pasts. This nuanced approach to fiber art is consistent in the other artworks in Fibers. It’s a rare treat to see such an expansive survey of contemporary fiber artists in this area, and likely one that won’t be repeated any time soon.