By Marya Summers
The Armory Art Center's latest exhibit, Materially Speaking , is women's work—seven women's work, to be exact. These artists have created beauty from unlikely materials. Dresses have been fabricated from screen and safety pins. Table linens have been replaced by delicate patterns of sugar. And chandeliers have been constructed of pantyhose. The exhibit demonstrates the relationship between message and medium as the artists comment on traditional feminine roles, issues, and concerns.
Photo by Christofer Fay
Denise Moody-Tackley creates evening gowns from everyday items. “Perpetual Presence” is an elegant ensemble with an empire waistline; it catches the eye from across the room as it shimmers beneath the bright gallery lights. A closer look reveals it's made of copper scouring pads. The dress juxtaposes two traditional female roles—glamour girl and housewife. Equally stunning, “Is It So?”, made entirely of screen and safety pins, reiterates the old adage that a woman must suffer to be beautiful.
Ena Marrero's chandelier creations are a lovely (and humane!) use for the torturous leg casings that women squeeze into in the name of fashion. “Shear Fear” is an arrangement of nylons and tights filled with charcoal briquettes. As they dangle from their dowel, we can appreciate Marrero's art much the way one might appreciate a woman: they are lovely, surprising, sensual, and incendiary.
“This Bird Has Flown” could well be the theme song for Carolyn Sickles' “Unrestrained Flight.” In The Beatles' song, bird is British slang for woman , and Sickles' installation nods toward the usage. At once earthly and ethereal, the installation of suspended cages is adorned with beautiful knots of cotton rope, knitted shawls, and cage “cozies.” Despite the offerings of security, warmth, and beauty, the birds have escaped for the uncertainties of freedom. Even the wreathed twigs that suggest birds' nests find liberty as they jut beyond the confines of the cages.
Several artists examined the role of women as menders, seamstresses, and connectors. In her Threads series, Sally Ordile uses the series' title as a pun, exploring both thematic threads and connecting fibers. Painting all her materials black, she unites the pieces visually even when some are natural (palm stalks) and others are synthetic (insulation). Aeyung Park-de Melo demonstrates the thread of the family line; the doilies in her work are meant to suggest times past, stories of mothers and grandmothers.
As Kati Kochanski's “Absorb” branched across the blanched white wall and absorbed nothing, rather emanated a delicate, arid shadow, some didn't understand the language the materials were speaking.
“I feel like I've been tricked,” a conservatively suited, middle aged man confessed as he shook his head, mistaking Kochanski's creation of painted wire and putty for an actual tree limb. “I don't get it.”
The opening reception challenged many who expected the more traditional art customarily displayed by the Armory rather than this sort of conceptual art, which had been the hallmark of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art before it closed its doors. Described on its website as a “community-based education and exhibition center,” the Armory is very much an unpretentious neighborhood center that appeals to artists of all ages and abilities.
Fortunately for the organization, Kara Walker-Tomé, former PBICA education director and now the Armory's Director of New Programs, brought her sharp curatorial eye to this exhibit. Also the founder and curator of Showtel , the annual one-night art installation at West Palm Beach's Hotel Biba , Walker-Tomé's exhibits are among the most intelligent and adventurous that South Florida has to offer.
Materially Speaking shows that a woman's place may begin in the home but extends to the studio and gallery. And perhaps none demonstrate this better than Giannina Coppiano Dwin, who frequently works with foodstuffs (flour, sugar, and spices) that undergo transition and decay. Her art evokes many senses and communicates the richness and temporality of the human experience.
In this exhibit, her untitled wax-drenched sundress is frozen in time, the hard, white wax dripping into a now solid puddle beneath it. The white eyelet of the sundress, the purity of the translucent wax, and the confectionary whimsy of combination all suggest girlhood, perhaps awaiting womanhood and its passion to provide the warmth necessary to free it.
Dwin, also a performance artist, will close the exhibit as she licks the lacy sugar from the 11-foot long poplar table top of another of her works, “Eleven Feet.”
Materially Speaking: Seven Women Artists through November 29 at the Armory Art Center, 1700 Parker Avenue, West Palm Beach. Monday-Friday: 9 am – 5 pm & Saturday 9 am – 2 pm. Free. 561-832-1776.