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Sharply Soft: “Touched” at Ground Floor Gallery in Nashville

Stephanie Metz, Avicular #13, 2012; hair and felted wool.
Stephanie Metz, Avicular #13, 2012; hair and felted wool.

The soft sculpture exhibition “Touched” [October 3-29] at Ground Floor Gallery and Studios in Nashville featured creatures and abstractions, faux taxidermy, biomorphic shapes, and multimedia designs — utilizing wool, fabric, sticks, and hardware — sculptural works that blur the line between traditional crafts and fine art. Curator and Ground Floor artist, Shana Kohnstamm, pulled together a group of artists from the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including Morwenna Catt, Andrea Graham, Sonya Yong James, Kit Lane, Moxie Lieberman, Kirsten Lund, Kyoko Matsuyama, Stephanie Metz, Jennifer Moss, Astrid Polman, Leisa Rich, and Zoe Williams. The exhibition ranged from charmingly pleasant to conceptual; at their best, these artists push their media and techniques beyond the expected forms to realize works that are technically audacious, visually compelling, and conceptually insightful.

Stephanie Metz’s Amorphozoa #13 resembles peas without the pod or some off-white liquid dripping down the gallery wall. The handcrafted piece’s repetitive elements are precisely formed and seem nearly identical. Avicular #13 simultaneously resembles a dove exploding up from the underbrush as well as the shaggy hoof of a Clydesdale crunching down on that same grass. This play between the transcendent and the grounded is the delightful result of Metz’s expert technique.

Kyoko Matsuyama, Embrace Yourself, 2015; Romney wool.
Kyoko Matsuyama, Embrace Yourself, 2015; Romney wool.

Kyoko Matsuyama’s Cocoon grabbed my eye but it didn’t hold my attention like her other work in the show. The lovely shell-like  shape seems only like the demonstration of a technique resulting in a pleasing form. There’s no sin in pleasing the eye, but a piece like Embrace Yourself – which looks like a tangle of tentacles straight out of Lovecraft – is one of the show’s most powerful works. Matsuyama should put away the puns and prettiness and let her concepts and titles always be the equal of her outstanding skills.

Moxie Lieberman, Celebrate, 2013; wool, 24 by 8 by 8 inches.
Moxie Lieberman, Celebrate, 2013; wool, 24 by 8 by 8 inches.

The show’s most conceptual works come from Moxie Lieberman whose grayscale, woolen reproductions of childhood toys are as bittersweet as they are beautifully realized. Develop is a child’s ring-stacking game minus the candy colored palette. Celebrate looks like a helium balloon, caught in the midst of slowly deflating as it comes to rest on a gallery pedestal, while its string hangs down a side, as if evoking a final sign of defeat. These works are playful; however, the grayscale hues offer a clever analog for faded childhood memories.

Shana Kohnstamm, Aculeus, 2014; wool, wire, carnelian, garnet, glass beads, acrylic polymer, 11 by 11 by 6 inches.
Shana Kohnstamm, Aculeus, 2014; wool, wire, carnelian, garnet, glass beads, acrylic polymer, 11 by 11 by 6 inches.

Kohnstamm’s own contributions look like studies of undersea creatures. Aculeus resembles a half plant, half scorpion critter, complete with the eponymous stinger made of a shiny piece of orange acrylic polymer. Here, the artist’s varied use of wire and beads creates a piece that is so well crafted that it comes off as more classy than creepy. But Kohnstamm’s biggest triumph is the exhibition itself, which manages to be an impressive display of a range of soft sculpture media and techniques, while also providing examples of how these same materials and skills might be used to create visually striking forms that can provoke, question, and inspire viewers in the manner of the best contemporary art.

Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.

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