Rhona Hoffman brings together a group exhibition of works from the past thirty years that shows how fabric performs as a palimpsest of industrial and domestic worlds, transplanted from utilitarian to art contexts.
Karen Reimer’s “Endless Set #1399,” was originally developed as a site-specific installation for UIC’s Gallery 400. Digits cut from white cloth are sewn in 1399 patches, stacked in the shape of pillowcases on the corner of a wooden bed-shaped frame. The work privileges an unrelenting systematic approach over conceptual transparency. Beside this sparsely arranged numerical record is a more chaotic and carnal collage. Anne Wilson’s “Mourning Cloth” is a loosely hung shroud, matted with human hair and featuring a small hole lined like a made-up eye with tiny black stitches that diffuse outwards, suggesting a vacant cosmic gaze. Patches of stained and used tablecloth are sewn together to emphasize fissures. The dispersal and patchwork of materials permeated with an undisclosed domestic life suggests another kind of compulsive action, an attempt to mend, without eradicating the compound histories of the material.
The fabrics used in the majority of pieces in this show were produced for practical rather than aesthetic reasons, yet these artists unpick those intended uses in order to further elaborate on socio-industrial production. The long black fibers streaming across Heather MacKenzie’s “Deep Sea Oil Prospects” are made of petroleum-derived polyethylene. The meticulously hand-woven peaked-wave pattern maps seismic readings that indicate the presence of valuable petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico. Sheila Hicks worked with the Bridgestone Metalpha Corporation to develop techniques with a waterproof, fireproof, frost-proof thread. Ironclad stainless steel strung out into thin filaments is acid-soaked to remove the iron, dissolving sharp casing into bafflingly velvety strands. “Dervish” is a square mandala of these silky skeins, radiating a lustrous variegated patina.
Material Gestures underscores the correlation of fibers to personal and industrial records, both infinitely malleable yet retaining indelible historical markers. Geological, conceptual and family history are tied together within works that present textiles as possible documents of time, energy and process. (Alyssa Moxley)
Through December 23 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 North Peoria.