HEATHER CAMERON, INES ORTNER GIGLING, SUSAN ANDREWS GRACE, and ANGELIKA WERTH, Faint Evidence
Oxygen Studio, Nelson
May 19 — June 17, 2006
By Anne DeGrace
Drape a tablecloth over a branch of a tree and let it winter there. Drive a car over a blanket a few times or bury it in compost. Deconstruct, watch, wait. The connective tissue between the works exhibited in Faint Evidence is the process of disintegration and its subsequent opportunities.
Susan Andrews Grace photographically documented the weathering of a linen tablecloth left in the forest through the winter, then let the aged fabric suggest new forms to her. Liminality in the Pink consists of pieces of weathered linen and rose-coloured organza viewed through misted shadowbox glass. Each symbolizes phases of woman — virgin, lover, mother, crone — told reverently from the intact shape of Virgin through the soft drapery of Crone.
The inspiration for Heather Cameron's contribution toFaint Evidence originated in Vancouver where she saw a street person, a few coins in her cup, in front of a trendy clothing store called "Plenty." It prompted her to investigate the concepts of necessity and superfluity. "If plenty exists as a sort of continuum between enough and too much, where do you draw the line?" Cameron asks. The seven panels of her The Blazing World series are constructed of antique Japanese and contemporary fabric in the manner of sixteenth-century Japanese patchwork used to make robes for Buddhist monks from cast-off garments. Stitched onto Cameron's piece-work panels are the words Plenty, Necessity, Conveniency, Decency, Delight, Pleasure, Superfluity taken from the writings of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623 – 1673) whose 22 published works include The Blazing World.
When Ines Ortner Gigling pulled a piece of cloth from the compost pile where she had deliberately placed it months earlier, she recognized the connection between this ageing process and the effects of Alzheimer's disease on her mother. "Both processes are shortcuts to the bottom circle of life, both are a journey of transformation showing the past, the present, and the certain future," she notes in her artist statement. In the series of works made for this exhibition, natural-fibre cloth has been subjected to dye, silkscreen ink, and paint, distressed by sand and fire, and combined with plaster, wood, metal, and casting resin. By mirroring the ravages of age and circumstance, Ortner Gigling urges us to examine the beauty of decomposition.
As a viewer, I can't look at these artists' regenerations without imagining the stories behind each piece of cloth. Where has it been? How has it been used? Angelika Werth's installation, Hudson's Bay Blanket, Deconstructed: A Reaction to the Sale of the Hudson's Bay Company, is particularly poignant. "I imagined acoureuse de bois in 1734 cutting up her torn blanket to construct a jacket.When the jacket wore out, she selected the best pieces and transformed them into a corset. When the corset wore out, again the best pieces were saved and made into a stomacher or basque. In the end, only a button survived." The three garments hang suspended, each a reduction of the previous one. The triangle at the heart of the coat, corset, andbasque symbolizes the feminine.
In Craft: Perception and Practice, Vol. I, (Ronsdale Press, 2002), Andrews Grace writes, "The language of cloth cannot be used in the same way as in the past if it is to honestly respond to this time and world. To emulate the values of the handmade and to honour them is to use the process in new ways, to communicate new meaning and for new reasons." Individually and collectively, these four artists push the boundaries of a traditional feminine art form. Their lengthy resumés include numerous professional exhibitions, extensive publication, education, and travel, resulting in the accumulation of experience and contemplation that gives this exhibition its depth. Faint Evidence is intended to tour at home and abroad. It will be interesting to see what further evidence may be gathered along the way.