Existential fiber art at 3rd Street Gallery
The exhibit “String + Things” at the 3rd Street Gallery is apparently what happens when you cross existentialism with fabric. Artists Melissa Maddonni Haims and Carol Wisker both have new work on display in conjunction with FiberPhiladelphia 2012 as part of this show, which straddles the fence between conceptual and comfy.
Some of the first pieces noticeable in the gallery are by Haims. Her work in the space all comes from a series, which introduces short, yet powerful phrases embroidered onto vintage fabric. There are creepy patterns of children in lederhosen and other traditional, ethnic costumes frolicking together, as well as gaudy yellow and orange flowers which look straight out of a '70s wallpaper catalog. Haims then accents these patterns with yarn, mimicking the flowers and adding ample plumage at the bottoms of many of the canvases.
The focal points of her works, though, are the text elements that she embroiders onto the background cloth. These snippets of words are all heavy-hitting sayings that many of us have heard or uttered before, both ironically and perhaps with a tinge of seriousness: “you repulse me,” “I don’t miss you,” and “kill me now” are among the pleasantries. The juxtaposition of soft, harmless yarn with these hard, sometimes hurtful phrases is jarring, but it’s also quite funny. The draped cloth of her larger works could almost verge of some sort of poetic vision … and then you read the caption. “did you REALLY just say that to me?” she asks to some hypothetical offender. With a lack of context and an excess of space for more words, the phrases demand to be seen. In a real-life setting they could represent someone seriously offended, but here they are just absurd.
Wisker has a focus much more on the fabric itself and its texture, but some of her work has a more thoughtful aspect as well. One work, “Tufts,” appears entirely as a study in texture and form alone. It’s one of the few pieces whose tag specifically asks visitors “Please do not touch,”and it’s no wonder, because it begs to be felt. The downy cotton, which ebbs its way around the wall-mounted form, makes this artwork seem like it should be in a bed instead of a gallery.
With a name like “Ecocide," it is clear that Wisker isn’t focused on merely cushiony fabric and textures. The round, globelike work resembles a clouded-over planet. The greenish-gray hues and the flame-like orange tufts piercing through them bring to mind a planet polluted beyond repair. It is as much a warning as it is a formal study of her materials.
Haims has work, which is immediately intense and literally asks big questions, while Wisker is more subtle about her concepts in favor of form. What is obvious is that both artists utilize fabric in ways which reinterpret their mediums on interpersonal and global levels.