Perambulating the Bounds

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Finer Things' New (and Updated) Blood

I stopped by Finer Things Gallery today. I don’t get there often enough, but it is very pleasant, a big space tucked away off Nolensville Road that feels removed from the city. I got a chance to talk to Ali Bellos, who works there, and who had good pieces in the book show at the Nashville Public Library this winter and always seems to be cooking up odd projects.

I wanted to see work by a new artist to the gallery, Leandra Spangler. (In part because some of my relatives have this last name, but it doesn’t look like we are related.) She makes vessels by weaving reeds, covering them in paper, bathing that in “graphite emulsion.” I guess this is a liquefied version of pencil lead. It certainly has the characteristic color of pencils with specks that pick up the light. The papering technique, which adds texture as well as solidity, appeals to me as a construction technique that you might use to create a temporary structure. These materials together give the clear sense of combining organic and inorganic stuff, objects that of ambiguous weight.

This was also a chance to see new work by Adrienne Outlaw and Kristi Hargrove, gallery regulars. Outlaw is exploring new materials, at least new to me in her work. Soft textures come out more. “Foster” is a long cone projecting out from the wall at eye level, covered with fuzzy white material. You look into an aperture on the end of the cone and see a backlit assembly deep inside that includes a shell and a lattice of fiber.

A couple of other pieces are covered with pink crocheted fabric (made by Cecilia Wells – Outlaw often collaborates with someone on components of the work and seems careful about crediting them). The color, crochet technique, and even the shapes remind me of Kristina Arnold, but of course these are different. “Nerve” has a small opening inside of which you see red pins and folds of cloth – definitely Outlaw’s visual world.

“Queen” is a very strong piece. She started with a glass milk collection jar. I don’t know anything about milk production, so I’d just be guessing how it is used, but the jar has four necks around one end and a single neck in the center opposite them (tubes from four udders come into the four necks, go out the single one into the rest of the collection system?). Outlaw turns the jar so the set of four necks forms legs. It sits on the floor, a squat presence, and the whole is covered with pink crochet. The legs are closed off and contain vials of honey, and when you look down into the jar from above there seems to be a mirror. Several metaphors converge – the milking cow, the queen bee, the crochet maker – women as providers of food and comfort, women as tools, women as containers of things. Outlaw’s metaphors always have a demanding quality to them, but this pieces comes off with more visual crudeness, which for me just makes the it all more compelling.

Kristi Hargrove has been exploring the ambiguities of biological form in exquisitely rendered drawings of skin and hair at such a close perspective you can’t tell if it comes from a person or a dog. Her new series, Morphing, makes the transgenic qualities more explicit. She seamlessly combines human and canine body parts – for instance, a human thumb and heel of the hand blend into the pads of a dog’s paw.

In these drawings she sets the objects off with hard boundaries against large amounts of white space. There is no illusion of continuous natural space, just disembodied zoological fantasy objects which sit on the background like cut outs. The drawn objects read as abstract shapes, introducing an element of artificiality. Earlier drawings were more plausibly naturalistic. My initial reaction is that I find the combination of artificiality and natural illusion jarring, but I think this may be important in pushing her inquiry-in-drawing into a new direction.


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