The porcelain bases of "Tensions (red)" emulate tree stumps.

The porcelain bases of Lynn Bennett-Carpenter’s “Tensions (red)” (2015) emulate tree stumps (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — The power of expectation is never so evident as it is in the moment it’s thwarted. In Tensions, an exhibit of new work by fiber artist Lynn Bennett-Carpenter at 9338 Campau, objects that initially appear rigid, are in fact elastic, forcing us to reconcile our perceptions with reality.

In the main gallery, Bennett-Carpenter has created a forest of floor-to-ceiling pieces, gathered loosely into three groupings of primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). An arrangement that seems sparse from the fringes becomes surprisingly dense when within its midst. Though the trunks of these “trees” are simply formed by single elastic threads, the mind elaborates on this skeletal sketch of strings, creating the feel of a wooded area. Similarly, the paper forms that hover over the yellow and blue “Tensions” groupings seem at first to be innocuous cutouts, like floral motifs common to wallpaper and drapery fabrics, but the longer one lingers in their environment, the more evocative these flat, colorful shapes become. Like a Kara Walker cutout, the eye begins to discover disturbing interpretations of initially benign forms. Each grouping is tethered to the floor by a different mechanism: “Tensions (red)” emerges from porcelain bases that evoke abstracted tree stumps; “Tensions (blue)” is anchored by blue fabric enclosures roughly the dimensions of a dress shoe bag; and “Tensions (yellow)” sprouts from fuzzy yellow bases that seem like halves of oversized, off-brand tennis balls. The perceived weight of these bases anchors the tense, elastic forms; when Bennett-Carpenter, whose reflexive physical interaction with her work is the hallmark of a fiber artist, reveals their elastic ability to be pulled askance and spring back into place, it is frankly unsettling.

The paper cut shapes hanging from "Tensions (yellow)" (foreground) and "Tensions (blue)" (background).

The paper cut shapes hanging from “Tensions (yellow)” (foreground) and “Tensions (blue)” (background)

Bracketing the central installation is a set of weavings: “Tamarack,” in the front lobby, and “Penland Freestyle I–IV” in the back. Bennett-Carpenter has discovered a means for translating ink drawings to wooden planes, which are then cut into slats that are reassembled into weavings. Tension is, of course, a functional principle of weaving, and the delicacy of these pieces in some ways masks the elemental struggle of opposing vectors in the fibers that create the matrix for these drawings.

Penland Freestyle I-IV

Lynn Bennett-Carpenter, “Penland Freestyle I–IV” (2015)

Finally, the back room features “Tablescape,” a tactile and bright installation of small pieces upon a white felt-topped table that glows against the surrounding black walls. The scene is quite evocative on a sensory level, with small groupings of porcelain balls and shapes tied into vivid wrappers of colorful, elasticized fabric. The loose scatter of these objects on the textured cloth landscape gives the sense of a candy store, jewelry display, or perhaps even a beach scene, with shore-dwelling creatures in bright shells. We cannot be sure what to expect from them or what they mean to say, but like the rest of Tensions, they leverage the flexibility of fiber against the rigidity of porcelain and wood, bending our own perceptions in the process.

Bright, cheery, mysterious "Tablescape."

“Tablescape” (2015)

Tensions: new work by Lynn Bennett-Carpenter continues at 9338 Campau (9338 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck, Mich.) through July 18. 

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....