THE THREAD YOU FOLLOW: DEBRA SMITH AND DONNA SHARRETT
Oct. 1-Dec. 20
Debra Smith and Donna Sharrett are fiber artists who employ an eclectic and intricately technical practice that bridges the conventional divide between crafts and fine art. Both artists repurpose found fabric in their compositions, which is painstakingly cut and stitched together to form compatible, yet distinct, bodies of work.
The exhibition seeks to spark an aesthetic dialogue between Sharrett’s and Smith’s oeuvres by installing them in a single, large gallery that affords each a discrete but common space. The work of both is clearly slow to make, and there is obvious care, patience and skill. This is an essential and shared characteristic; however, while they explore similar media and processes, they diverge in terms of intent and presentation. Sharrett’s assemblages invite close scrutiny and play to archetypal understanding; Smith’s compositions are best contemplated as unified wholes and offer stimulus for the viewer’s imaginings.
Donna Sharrett, who is based in New York City, combines sculpture, craft techniques and nontraditional materials to create detailed objects that draw on the historical and symbolic significance of the circular form. In her Arrangements, these circular forms and compositions reflect the seamless continuum of ritual that binds the past to the present, and the present to the future. Sharrett incorporates rose petals, synthetic hair, and rings, as well as old neckties, denim and other scrap fabric, buttons, jewelry, and dirt. The materials are chosen specifically for their symbolic values. A variety of needlework techniques are employed, including crochet, embroidery and needle lace, each serving to tie together the ideas of fragility and strength, power and beauty, loss and rebirth, beginning and end.
Debra Smith, who maintains a studio in Kansas City, has the aesthetic sensibilities of a painter, but rather than applying pigment to a fabric support, Smith creates her compositions from a palette of already-dyed textiles. These she cuts by hand into geometric shapes, manipulating a limited range of colors and patterns within the grid of an intuitive, planar abstraction. Her practice involves the stitching together and overlapping of found silk fabric, primarily from vintage Japanese kimonos. Smith hopes that the historic nature of the fabric might connote another layer of meaning for viewers, suggesting an intangible narrative that disrupts the otherwise formal quality of the compositions with ghostly and poetic connections to the past.
ROGER BALLEN: ASYLUM OF THE BIRDS
Jan. 27-May 28
American-born photographer Roger Ballen is one of the most original and influential photographers of the 21st century. His carefully composed and multilayered photographs exist somewhere between the hauntingly beautiful and the deeply disturbing, and they challenge the viewer to accompany the artist on a psychological journey. Using a simple square format and black and white film, Ballen has invented a hybrid aesthetic that combines drawing, painting, collage, and sculptural techniques.
Ballen (b. 1950) has lived and worked in South Africa for four decades. His newest work, Asylum of the Birds, is set within the confines of a makeshift house on the outskirts of Johannesburg, a place inhabited by individuals at the margins of society—refugees, runaways, drifters. In this place out of time, the human and animal inhabitants collaborate as Ballen’s cast in an ongoing series of quasi-directed performances. The resulting images blur the line between fantasy and reality, a quality Ballen has described as “documentary fiction.” Deeply meaningful, his compelling psychodramas evoke both the chill of gothic fairy tales and the surreality of our strangest dreams.
For Ballen, the omnipresent birds, both alive and dead, are archetypal representations of beauty and mystery, suggesting a link between the heavens and earth. Although “asylum” might connote madness, it also suggests refuge and stands as a metaphor for redemption. Ballen elaborates: “My purpose in taking photographs over the past 40 years has ultimately been about defining myself. It has been fundamentally a psychological and existential journey.”