Anne Wilson @ Rhona Hoffman
January 21 – March 1, 2008
Anne Wilson has created a formidable body of work over the years using incidental materials, such as thread, scraps of old fabric, wire fragments and hair. She inserts these simple, yet culturally resonant, materials into the forms and practices of drawing, sculpture and performance to create imaginative works that push the parameters of fiber art while confirming the relevance of craft-based processes. Her solo show at Rhona Hoffman again finds the artist shuttling deftly among visual art practices to fashion a singular poetry from material culture.
The exhibit consists of three interrelated projects: Portable City, Notations and Wind-Up. Portable City is a collection of 47 thread and wire drawings. Notations unites photographs of motion sequences based on hand gestures, such as knitting, with a composition by sound artist Shawn Decker. In Wind Up, the largest project, Wilson works with a team of collaborators to generate a 17’ x 7’ weaving warp by winding bright yellow thread around waist-high steel spindles.
Of the three projects, Portable City is the most compelling. In this installation, Wilson uses thread and wire filament to create three dimensional drawings that resemble miniature cities, snapshots of cellular machinery, doodles and, sometimes, accumulations of debris found in the corners of a room. Pins hold much of the thread and wire in place but still allow tentacles to dangle and curl away from the smooth white base on which the drawings are organized. These stray threads counter the rigor with which the artist puts her drawings together, ensuring the compositions do not become overly clinical.
Each of the works in Portable City is encased in a vitrine that sits on stainless steel legs. The vitrines are clustered into larger groupings, in a loose configuration, to create a room-size installation. The Plexiglas cases protect the highly fragile drawings, but they also place a barrier between the viewer and the work. This is unfortunate, as Wilson’s work is highly tactile in both appearance and nature, requiring so many fingers and hands to put together. Perhaps it would be better if the artist accepted the risk inherent in showing this delicate work without protective coverings.
The diversity of lines and forms that Wilson crafts in every one of her works is impressive. Some of her threads and wires are razor straight; others twist, coil or meander. Some are wispy, while others accumulate into thick bands. Subtle color changes enhance the variety. While most of the thread and wire is black, several works sport threads that are gray, brown, orange and even lime green. The dark threads have weight and definition, while the lighter threads soften the edges of their forms to the point of dissolution.
For example, Wind Up uses a colored thread that, depending on the light and time of day, alternates between cadmium and fluorescent yellow. When the viewer is seated and looking straight at the work, it begins to evaporate into a mist against the blue winter light coming from the window pane in front of it.
The scale and degree of detail in both Portable City and Wind Up discourage stationary, passive viewing habits. To experience each installation, the viewer must move around the room, pausing periodically to crouch down, absorb details, and then pull back to take the installation in as a whole. A nice interplay between macroscopic and microscopic perspectives thus develops.
The least successful work in the show is Notations. Despite its sound component, Notations seems static and, worse, inert when the accompanying composition is not playing. The photographs of motion sequences just do not hold as much visual interest as Wilson’s other work and perhaps even suffer from being displayed alongside the other installations. But, in the end, these are minor criticisms. Wilson should be commended for putting herself out on a limb. Experimentation has always informed her process, resulting in increasingly ambitious and complex projects. I look forward to her next show.