Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Art Seen: Exhibit is new page in art book

When I walked into the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at the Kenai River Campus of Kenai Peninsula College, the lights suddenly turned on. A motion sensor has been installed, probably to help the college save money on electricity. But while I found myself engrossed in the subtle and strangely intense exhibit, the lights quit on me no less than four times. A minor irritation, to be sure, but each time I felt a spell was broken.

Brenna Burns’ delightful Kozo (mulberry) paper installations have the breadth and depth to take viewers outside themselves, or inside themselves, if they are so inclined. Each lightly hanging piece incorporates quirky little drawings of cocoons, pods, creatures and dresses with blocks of writing, only sometimes legible, which serve to create varying textures on the already texture-rich handmade paper.

The words span from statements like, “the body is the garment of the soul,” to, “you’re not ready to know” (which is what I felt when I couldn’t read the words on some of the pieces, like a secret teaching I knew I could gain access to only when I was truly ready). Sometimes the repeated words feel like a mantra, other times more like the frenzied babblings of a manic-depressive. In others yet, like a detached factual statement, repeated in an offhand manner.

These works really seem like an archeological find, delicate transcripts depicting ancient practices, some areas torn, or bunched, or overlaid to varying effect. I found myself wishing I could literally surround myself in this element, in a paper house of sorts, enjoying the way the material responds to only slight movements around the room.

To quote the artist, who is also a writer based in New Haven, Conn., “Mulberry is the preferred food of silkworms, and I enjoyed this connection between the insect nature of the paper and the insect nature of the images I was working into the paper. Kozo also has a sound to it — it rustles and flutters without much provocation – and this struck me as another nice kinship with the insect world.”

The exhibit is called “Paper x3,” because of the three artists represented.Each have been involved in their own type of exploration into paper. Rhoda Rosenberg’s connection with paper was brought to the surface (I think I mean that as an intended pun) while she was learning printmaking in the 1970s.

“In etching, I fell in love with black ink. The surface was seductive. Instead of using the process to make images that I already had in my mind, I began to find images through the process.”

Each is a mono print and the artist has reiterated that point by writing 1/1 in the signature area. Her work is quite sensual and visually strong. I would like to see more of it, and on a grander scale, perhaps.

“Exhale” by Nicole Seisler, her only piece in the exhibit, is a series of chunky handmade papers, displayed so they are set off the wall and create nice shadows. The paper does not seem unlike those created by students in any number of printmaking 101 classes across the country. All of the artists appear primarily process oriented. And while printmaking and papermaking are imbued with seemingly magical properties themselves, it is Brenna Burns’ work that haunts me with its magical, whimsical and inherently thoughtful approach.

At the turn of the millennium, there was a summit called to decide what a time capsule should optimally contain that would not be opened for another thousand years. After much discussion (who knows what operating systems or even electrical/energy systems will in use by then, since metal does weird things in space and is heavy, etc.) it was decided that something on paper would be the best choice.

Paper, even though it can wrinkle, mold, get crispy and yellow from an abundance of tannic acid, fall apart or simply dry out, is a surprisingly long-lasting element when properly cared for. So cheers to paper, times three, in all of its glory and subtlety. Thanks to the curator, Ellen Chambers, who pulled it all together, and a special kudos to Celia Anderson, who makes things like this happen at our local college.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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