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  1. Visual Arts

'Eyesplice Collective' at Morean features 12 emerging female artists

Chair Dance II is a short video by Sara Holwerda in which a woman struggles with a chair in a dance between victim and victimizer.
Published Sep. 23, 2014

The term "emerging artist" is perplexing. It implies youthful talent that is still developing and the absence of significant professional exposure. Given the number of exhibitions I've seen featuring emerging artists, I find the label all over the map and misleading. After all, talent should never cease developing and recognition and exposure can be arbitrary.

"Eyesplice Collective: Spatial Disruption" at the Morean Arts Center is billed as a group of emerging artists, and I'll go with it, adding the caveat that many of these artists (all female) have impressive exhibition histories and some of their works are in significant public collections.

That all are women is no accident; the 12 formed the collective in 2012 because, though diverse in vision, methods and materials, they share values and priorities about the kind of art they want to create.

Group shows are great for viewers because if a work doesn't move us, we can move on and find one that does. I have my favorites, some surprising me.

Megan Piontkowski is represented by two works in fiber that seem facile at first. Afterwit is a string of nautical flags arranged to create "retorts that I wished I had made in response to street harassment," their jaunty colors belying their ironic purpose. It's a smart and original work. Sebastian, a quilted oval wall hanging in gray cotton is centered by an androgynous figure (the artist's alter ego) embroidered in luminous silk thread from which more stitching radiates to symbolic objects such as a unicorn, book, violin and snake. Piontkowski usually adds a subtle but clever connection between the object and the line, swirling through the eye of a needle, turning from yellow to black when it ends above a flame and becoming a drip of honey about to land in a spoon. It's exquisite handwork.

That Megan Hildebrandt begins with five pieces of same-size black paper altered by small, densely spaced elliptical cutouts and can make each one unique is impressive (How Many Days Until Something is a Habit I-V). The paper becomes fragile and pliant, the flat surface forming itself into new configurations that suggest volume and density.

Lauren Alyssa Howard's wall installation of cut-out drawings and silhouettes, In the Wet Heat of August, Baptized Ghosts (and Mosquitoes) Hover Expectantly, has a whisper of Kara Walker, the definitely post-emergent artist who has an international reputation, especially since both are Southerners. Howard uses more of a mash-up approach, entwining animals and humans, but mostly animals, with the occasional lone armadillo or squirrel, plus a platoon of insects as well as flowers, weeds, moonshine jug and old bricks, all connected by rural power poles. As with the other two artists I discussed, Howard's craftsmanship — in this case as a draftsman — is excellent.

The videos also were compelling.

Ellen Mueller's Monotonize Series presents four scenarios in which a professionally dressed young woman is seated in a folding chair beside a stream, in a snowstorm and perched on a cliff and mountain. In each location, she holds a ream of paper that she systematically sloughs off without expression, often licking her finger to expedite the process. The bizarre juxtaposition offers several interpretations involving workplace attitudes.

Sara Holwerda's Chair Dance II is a superbly choreographed performance in which the infamous stripper chair dance is transformed into an awkward struggle with the chair as a dance between victim and victimizer. In one position, the woman's head is trapped by the chair legs as if it's holding her in a head lock. We know that she could just push the chair away but for her (and at some level us, too) it has become an inescapable aggressor.

I appreciated the sensitivity with which Maria Raquel Cochez explores obesity and its attendant issues. The actor in this silent video is superb in her small visual cues. It's a long work, 30 minutes, and the only action is the woman, who sits on a sofa and seems to watch a TV program, eats a gallon of Edy's Cookies 'n Cream ice cream with a fork. She is the opposite of what I visualize a binge eater to be: She eats slowly, even voluptuously but she doesn't stop, even when she appears to be full, until it's gone. As she eats, she seems to react to what's happening on the TV screen, then for a moment, her eyes shift and it seems as if she's looking at the camera and, by extension, the viewer. Maybe it was an illusion on my part. The length seemed gratuitous until I realized that 30 minutes is the length of a lot of shows and the time it appears to take for someone with persistence to eat a tub of ice cream.

The show also has fine examples of painting. I'm thinking, for example, of Briana Phelps' quickly and loosely worked watercolors that form a visual journal of her daily life, cat, wilting flowers and all. What distinguishes many of them is the repeated sense of compression or restriction she brings to her compositions, and her use of color. And of Magnolia Laurie's more cryptic and precise paintings.

I hope each one of these artists continues to "emerge," even though I think of them as continuing to mature.

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

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