Friday, August 15, 2008

The Horror of Tradition at Andrew Shire Gallery

Artists Bound Together by the Common Thread of Tradition

One of the main catalysts that propelled me toward a career in the arts was an early exposure to traditional arts and crafts of my ancestral homeland, Ukraine. Growing up in a highly-charged ethnic household, my parents' house was decorated floor-to-ceiling with traditional arts and crafts of the motherland -- wood carvings, delicately inlaid boxes and plates, exquisitely painted pottery, vibrantly colored Easter eggs, and last, but certainly not least, cross-stitched embroidery. Click here
to see some examples.

My mother has always had an affinity for cross-stitching and is quite the connoisseur. She would always remark that good embroidery tells a very important narrative about the maker and what s/he feels -- not just on the front of the work, but also the back-side. The work should always appear neat, balanced, free of frayed ends and most importantly, executed in such a way that you may have difficulty distinguishing which side is which.

However, tradition also has its fair share of limitations. Most 'traditional' work is highly redundant and allows for very little, if any, deviation from established convention. John Souza, a curator at Andrew Shire Gallery, has a different take on the traditional craft of needlepoint. He organized
The Horror of Tradition, an exhibition that strives to reacquaint the viewer with the long forgotten tradition of needlecraft practices, but with a more contemporary flair.

"The show is the result of innumerable studio visits, research and conversations with artists," said Souza. "It could have easily included the work of fifty artists -- or more! But the opportunity to do this show also came with welcome challenges, which include a limited production time and smallish-gallery space." In many ways, the exhibition reads as a showroom highlighting the works of a collective artist sweatshop, each artist scurrying to get pieces done because of the high demand and a limited time frame.

While the artists employ various techniques from needlecraft tradition, their work is anything but traditional. This show is a fresh, progressive and forward thinking approach toward sewing and art making. In Sophia Allison's work Flo Wrestling Mask, the piece gives of a highly fetishized aura. There is a sense of both uneasiness and intrigue. It establishes a push-and-pull effect between the materials -- finely sewn felt, beads and sanitary napkins -- which make up the mask, and the idea of identity.

Sophia Allison, Flo Wresling Mask, 2005

Felt, beads, maxi pads
20" x 7" x 9"

Robert Fontenot's America the bu-tee-fide brings new life to a tattered and lifeless portrayal of Old Glory. In most cases, a flag in such poor condition would be deemed unacceptable for use by military standards. Yet, the addition of cotton flower appliqu├ęs and foliated fabric seems to indicate a sense of hope, optimism and re-birth for an object that has obviously seen better days.

Robert Fontenot, America the bu-tee-fide, 2004

Hand applique, cotton and nylon on cotton
60" x 31"

Starlie Geikie's embroidered pieces serve as vivid reminders that many long hours go into creating these highly detailed works, such as Carrie. This specific piece is no more than 7" x 5", but it leaves a lasting impression on the viewer, interms of technique and subject matter. Focusing on Hollywood horror films, the work draws its inspiration from stereotypical depictions of women and their many states of apprehensiveness in key cinematic moments. Furthermore, the piece allows you to ponder the eerie feeling of having just walked into a somewhat awkward situation, either before or right after a climactic event occurred.

Starlie Geikie, Carrie, 2004
Wool thread, embroidery canvas

6 3/4" x 4 3/4"

Scouting out the area around the exhibition space, Evelyn Serrano photo-documented the purchase of a shirt from a homeless person and then modified it by embroidering it with a design using the ever-so-time-consuming needle and thread approach. The object presents a commentary on the human body as a site for social exchange. It's as if this shirt were a family quilt being passed on from one person to the next, each owner having the responsibility of adding a documentational note of past ownership.

Evelyn Serrano, Shirts Off Their Backs series: John, 2008

26" x 20"

While looking at Liz Young's work, I was somehow reminded of Gerhard Richter's painting Hirsch (1963). Not because of the use of wildlife or the striking compositional resemblance, but rather because of a commitment to the reinterpretation of a medium and the pursuit of a more relevant context for the time in which it was produced. With respect to Richter, no one painted like he did. He painted almost exact copies of photographs, he painted on photographs, and at times sporadically jump back-and-forth between representational art and chaotic abstraction. It is the same kind of energy and excitement that I came across while viewing this exhibition. This group of sophisticated stitchers certainly proves that sometimes hanging on by a thread can be a good thing.

Liz Young, Deer Target/Crow, 2007

Thread on paper archery target
36" x 48"

The exhibition is on view at Andrew Shire Gallery from July 31st-September 6th, 2008; 3850 Wilshire Blvd. #107, Los Angeles; Open Tuesday-Saturday 11a.m.-6p.m.; (213) 389-2601; Free.