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BAM shines the spotlight on fiber in its 2012 Biennial

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Eleanor Roosevelt
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Art Museum Eleanor Roosevelt fans will appreciate Jan Hopkins’ “Oh Eleanor,” a whimsical piece that pays homage to the famed first lady.
Bellevue Arts Museum’s second edition of its juried biennial is currently making a splash, with visitors casting a vote for their favorite artist.

Two years ago, clay was the medium of choice for the museum’s first biennial. This year, “BAM Biennial 2012: High Fiber Diet” focuses on fiber, one of the most thriving and vibrant media in contemporary art.

According to Stefano Catalani, curator of the exhibit, fiber was chosen as the medium for the show because of its established, yet underexposed, place in the craft world.

He says, “As a museum dedicated to art, craft and design, we wanted to shine a spotlight on fiber art created in the Northwest. With its versatility and ready availability, fiber art erases the traditional art/craft divide more than any other medium, touching upon the core of our mission.”

Nearly 300 artists applied to be in the exhibit and proposals were reviewed by a panel of jurors who then selected 44 participants.

The majority of the works on display were specifically created for the show and they range from traditional to new expressions of fiber art, where ideas and materials create a unique interaction and synergy.

“The exhibition celebrates the immense potential of constant transformation and reinvention of the fiber medium, stressing its ubiquitous presence in art, craft and design, its richness in traditions, as well as its great wealth of cultural references, old and new,” explains Catalani. “It also demonstrates fiber’s versatility, both in terms of scale, monumental to exquisitely small; forms, sculptural and two-dimensional; materials, wool, cotton, silk, cloth, horse hair and unspun fibers such as paper and felt; and techniques, weaving, knitting, embroidery, basketry, quilting just to name a few.”

Well-known and emerging artists are featured in the show, including Howard and Lorraine Barlow, Lou Cabeen, Scot Fife, April Marie Hale, Ann Johnston, Christine Joy, Paul Komada, Moxie, Sherry Markovitz, Tiffany Pruitt, Lesley Richmond, Scott Schuldt and Tamara Wilson among others.

“High Fiber Diet” has much to interest and excite viewers, with works that stimulate the senses, arouse a range of emotions and open avenues of conversation. Howard and Lorraine Barlow, for example, regularly engage in life experiments and artistic collaborations together.

The pieces they created for the exhibit examine themes of love, loss, ritual, oaths and tradition.

In “Final Embrace,” Lorraine’s project, a hand-knit shroud in the style and material of a fishermen’s sweater, rests on a platform. It has a unique cable knit “xoxo” pattern and according to the artist’s statement, the piece is to be worn by her husband Howard upon his death.

“Once in a Blue Moon,” the companion work created by Howard is comprised of more than 1000 shotgun shells loaded with Lorraine’s entire deconstructed wedding dress.

The fragments were folded into each shell in place of the lead shot. All but 21 of the shells contain memories of Lorraine, penned by Howard, on slips of paper.

The remaining shells contain life wishes written by Lorraine. Per the artist, these 21 shells are to be fired into the air at the first blue moon following Lorraine’s death.

Nearby, artist Christine Joy uses willow, apple and cottonwood branches to create beautiful organic shapes which convey the power and beauty of the movement of air. In an adjacent gallery, men’s clothing is the focus of three pieces by Michael Cepress, who views dress as a way to understand one another. Of note is “For the Man with the Open Heart,” a jacket that is flared open in accordion-like style and shaped like a heart to display the location of this vital organ.

“Control,” by Moxie represents a “yearlong marathon of needle felting, done to create an intimidating, whimsical, familiar-yet-inscrutable mechanism purely out of wool.”

It’s an oversized panel with switches, dials, gauges and screens that invites touch as viewers imagine interacting with the varied controls.

A quintessential Puget Sound landscape is the subject of Barbara Lee Smith’s “Oyster Light,” which at first glance looks like an Impressionist painting.

For David Chatt, memories are the focus of two poignant pieces. “Bedside Table” is inspired by a drawer of the artist’s deceased father’s personal belongings which he found when emptying his parents’ house.

On display is a collection of fatherly items painstakingly covered in tiny white beads that now serve as special images and meaningful reminders.

“Love, Dad” is a 30-year compilation of letters from the artist’s father to the artist which has been placed in a container made of sewn glass beads.

Chatt explains that he spent a year laboring to create a place for these missives where they can be seen, but not shared.

He writes: “As I began this work, I thought of this image as a metaphor for my father and his elusive nature. As I complete it, I understand that it is as much a symbol of how I deal with my feelings as for how my father dealt with his. ‘Love, Dad’ is about a father and son who loved each other, each in their own sincere and flawed ways.”

One of the larger and eye-catching installations in the exhibit is Paul Komada’s “Tower of Us,” a display of 99 knitted colored squares and one gray piece. It’s a tribute to the Occupy Wall Street movement with the number 99 symbolizing the slogan, “We’re the 99 percent.”

Eleanor Roosevelt fans will appreciate Jan Hopkins’ “Oh Eleanor,” a whimsical piece that pays homage to the famed first lady.

Known for her outspokenness, intelligence and wit, Roosevelt is portrayed as part human, part teapot, referring to her well-known quote that equates women with teabags, who don’t know their own strength until they’re put in hot water.

The design of the torso has the look of Art Nouveau flames rising up from the base, made of an assortment of fruit peels.

One of the more unusual pieces is actually a video entitled, “Embroidering A Lamb’s Tongue.” In it, the hands of the artist, Amanda Manitach, are seen embroidering a lamb’s tongue using over a thousand Victorian glass beads.

The combination of the raw, fleshy tongue, the needle and the black beads, all in motion, is disturbing, yet compelling. Inspiration for the work came from a poem by French symbolist Stephanie Mallarme, who writes of a precious, yet meaningless, glittering bauble.


Visitors to the Biennial are encouraged to vote for their favorite artist with the winner of the Samuel and Patricia Smith Peoples’ Choice Award to be announced during a special ceremony on Free First Friday, February 1.

Artists are also eligible to win the John & Joyce Price Award of Excellence, which is selected by BAM’s curatorial team. Each of the two awards is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

“Bam Biennial 2012: High Fiber Diet” runs through February 24, 2013.

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

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