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BAM highlights unique qualities of fiber in new exhibit

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Bellevue Arts Museum newest exhibit, "The Mysterious Content of Softness," brings together eleven emerging and established artists to explore the transformative power of fiber and its physical, psychological and cultural connections to the human body.

On display is a variety of sculptures, installations and crafts created by time-honored techniques such as knitting, loom-weaving, embroidery and crotchet, as well as by several new methods that present alternative uses of traditional textiles.

According to Stefano Catalani, curator of the exhibition, the artists were selected for their "emotional response to and understanding of fiber’s potential for capturing the fluidity of life."

He notes that some of the individuals exploit the durability and fragility of the medium, addressing issues of gender identity "by repositioning and humorously challenging the expectations from a medium so stereotypically feminine."

Featured artists include: Diem Chau, Lauren DiCioccio, Angela Ellsworth, James Gobel, Angela Hennessy, Rock Hushka, Lisa Kellner, Miller & Shellabarger, Lacey Jane Roberts, Jeremy Sanders and Nathan Vincent. In "Seer Bonnets: A Continuing Offense," Angela Ellsworth, a fourth generation Mormon who grew up in Salt Lake City, presents an installation of nine white bonnets encrusted with pearl corsage pins. It’s a nod to early pioneer headpieces, plural wives and seer stones. Each bonnet is said to represent one of the multiple wives of Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Ellsworth’s great-great-grandfather, who was indicted for unlawful cohabitation in 1882 (as a result of the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act).

Though the bonnets are beautiful, they can also be viewed as capable of inflicting a torturing pain with their thousands of pins.

"Locker Room," a large scale piece by Nathan Vincent, presents a stereotypical masculine space created through the stereotypically feminine processes of knitting and crocheting.

By focusing on the contradiction between medium and subject matter, the artist breaks down the barrier of traditional gender associations.

The objects (i.e. urinals, showers, lockers and benches) are no longer rough and manly, but soft and inviting, evoking a feminine quality.

James Gobel’s "paintings" are made of felt and yarn, which have been cut and carefully inlaid to create portraits of paunchy, mostly bearded, working-class men. Wearing flannel shirts, blue jeans and suspenders, they are seen engaging in a variety of domestic type activities or are glitzed up like 80’s pop stars.

Gobel’s portraits take inspiration from a specific gay subculture, the "bear" community, which shuns the popular stereotype of the effeminate gay male.

Artist Diem Chau’s work speaks to family history and one’s connection to his/her past and culture. Working from photos, she embroiders silhouettes and portraits onto silk organza, which has been delicately stretched over the rims of found or gifted porcelain plates, saucers and cups.

There is a drawing quality to her stitches, enhanced by the white background of the porcelain.

Symbols, such as braids, are explored, depicting the passing of time.

Lauren Dicioccio is known for her meticulously hand-sewn and embroidered life-size replicas of everyday objects, including newspapers, National Geographic magazines, pencils, plastic bags, watches, cassette tapes, film spools, playing cards and plastic water bottles.

These banal objects, which are often overlooked in society, are instilled with a sense of preciousness. Compositions such as "This World of Ours," for example, express concern for life’s transience and impermanence through the attempt to memorialize and preserve.

Hard not to notice is Lacey Jane Roberts’ "We Couldn’t Get In. We Couldn’t Get Out," a10-foot high fuchsia-colored crocheted fence, which physically blocks the flow of visitors through the galleries.

Like other artists in the exhibit, Roberts uses the feminine processes of knitting and crochet to create stereotypically masculine objects and address issues of gender within society.

Lisa Kellner’s work, on the other hand, deviates from this theme. Her "Feeding on the Entrails of My Strung Out Mind," captures both the beauty and decay of life. Inspired by microscopic images of disease, the bulbous silk organza shapes appear as abnormal growths or tumors invading the gallery space.

Each shape is hand-formed by stretching fabric around an object and then applying pigment, ink, bleach and other elements to it.

Once the object is removed, what remains is a translucent skin that maintains a cellular shape.

The vivid colors and floral-like globules are arresting. They attract, yet create a sense of discomfort. "The Mysterious Content of Softness" is a fascinating exhibit that celebrates contemporary fiber art.

"The Mysterious Content of Softness" runs through June 26 at Bellevue Arts Museum.

For information: (425) 519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org.

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