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DETROIT — There seem to be two prevailing schools of thought among artists about process. On one side, you have those who cherish the illusion of seamless execution — the “zipless fuck” of art making, if you will — and as a result, go to great lengths to conceal their process. On the other side, you have process junkies, journey-is-the-destination types who revel in the making, with all its challenges, dead ends, and breakthroughs. Full disclosure: I am firmly in the second camp, and perhaps that is why Sampled, the new group show at Cave Gallery, resonates so strongly with me.
Sampled is the first exhibition by a working crit group, begun in December of 2014 by a several Cranbrook Academy of Art alumni with a common interest in contemporary fiber and textiles. The pieces on display are all works-in-progress, with their development aided and amended by regular critiques held at monthly intervals. These critiques include studio visits, conversations, and hardline responses within the group to the work of its eight members: Corrie Baldauf, Lynn Bennett-Carpenter, Annica Cuppetelli, Carrie Dickason, Jessica Frelinghuysen, Megan Heeres, Rod Klingelhofer, and Jeremy Noonan. (Full disclosure: the author will take park in a conversation in the gallery with all the artists and fellow critic Lynn Crawford on August 23.)
Says Noonan, of the group, “The primary focus is to foster a critical dialogue about our creative practice and to curate exhibitions and experiences surrounding our craft.” Noonan’s works in the show deal largely with fabric-wrapped wire, bent into highly figurative shapes — as with “Drawing in the Backyard,” which depicts a window, tree, and fence — as well as abstract configurations like “Stub Out,” in which rigid fabric forms worm their way directly out from the wall of the gallery, looking much like colorful, stubbed out cigarettes, as the piece’s title suggests.
Conceptual artist Corrie Baldauf presented a new piece, “Landscape,” which ties together three major motifs within her work: color, as perceived through sheets of tinted Plexiglas called “Optimism Filters,” hand-painted signs (sometimes created in collaboration with father-son sign-painters Craig Signs), and patterns, called “loss spots” that create fields of disturbance or emphasis on the surface of her images. Much of Baldauf’s work deals generally with directing attention — visually through billboards, viscerally through filters, or sometimes intellectually, through seemingly innocent questions — and this newest work brings together some of these methods, creating a piece that is both contemplative and playful (a good characterization of Baldauf, as well). Expounding on the benefits of the crit group, Baldauf says: “It takes many voices to make any one voice heard. No one ever got anywhere on their own.”
As cohesive as the group process of once-monthly reviews may be, each member has a unique take on the meaning of Sampled’s concept. Jessica Frelinghuysen, who is showing her working prototypes for “Germination Corps” — clothing and backpacks designed for “community engaged germination,” so that wearers (usually children) can transport transplants — says of the show’s title, “I was thinking Sampled was like a sampler that a girl would sew in the 1800s. Little stitches of all the patterns she knew, almost like little sketches than could be referenced and turned into something later, but always there to go back to, to return to.”
By contrast, Lynn Bennett-Carpenter says, “I think of fabric samples — where many possibilities are stored, usually in a cumbersome book. The samples are for considering and imagining patterns, textures, colors in other places like on walls or furniture and at a grander scale. Really the plethora of samples gives someone many ideas to consider before they choose to take a risk on one. It’s research.” Bennett-Carpenter’s pieces in the show clearly belong to the same body of recent work that comprised her solo show at 9338 Campau last month, with a large-scale weaving/painting that Bennett-Carpenter worked hard to salvage from technical glitches, ultimately creating extra media layers atop the finished weaving — as well as another tabletop spread of fiber-wrapped ceramic objects arranged in an appealing if somewhat undefined display. Her work is juxtaposed, and seems in conversation with, an installation by Carrie Dickason, who repurposed leather and foam scraps from her day job sewing custom auto interiors into a textural wall display that looks like artificial flora and fauna-meets-dominatrix toy array.
Loose associations crop up all over the show — Frelinghuysen’s germinating coveralls stand alongside an installation by Annica Cuppetelli that features intense corsetry boning. The display presents samples that are based on the average woman’s waist in various centuries, and uses these corsetry objects as an examination of expectations placed on female bodies. These featureless and objectified forms, defined only by waist size, lead in turn toward a display by Megan Heeres that hangs in the corner, obscured behind a veil of mostly opaque paper like a ghost. “I respect this mutability,” says Heeres, of the group’s process of sampling and experimenting.
Finally, Rod Klingelhofer — head of the customized car interior business where Dickason works — has a massive sculptural piece that threads the needle between loom and torture rack, holding a winding strip of two-color leather in dozen-point traction. This piece ties together the narrative between Bennett-Carpenter’s loom creation, Dickason’s twist on similar materials, and the bodily forms inhabiting the gallery’s far side.
In fact, the cohesion of the show is a testament to the ongoing process of its participants, whose work has not only evolved individually, but also cohesively. With Sampled as my evidence, I’m going to mark up a win for the process junkies!
Sampled continues at Cave Gallery (1600 Clay Street, building 4, 3rd floor, Detroit, Michigan) through August 23.