Thursday, November 10, 2011

When stones fly

Oh ho, what's this? A tree outside the building where I hang my hat invaded by some sort of fungus. In delicious colors. What was yesterday a nondescript maple has morphed into something that stops me in my tracks.

Closer inspection reveals dozens of stuffed fabric sacks, installed -- it turns out -- by artist Jodi Colella, as part of an exhibition at the gallery inside called "Stitched: Nature Constructed." Three artists, working in fabric, at the interface of art and nature.

Here is a detail of another work by Colella, a piece of found driftwood colonized by felted wool "puff balls." Hard to tell, really, where nature leaves off and artifice begins.

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, a child of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and an aficionado of Andy Goldsworthy. My fantasy world would be richly natural, but transformed by the artist's touch into something fanciful and intellectually provocative -- a sort of Middle Earth in which magic blossoms on every tree.

Here's another piece from the show, by Seberah Malik, what appears at first glance to be beach cobbles, but which are in fact stiffened translucent fabric -- light, airy and empty. We have entered a world where stones fly.

J. R. R. Tolkien, the Master of Middle Earth, suggested that the world of magic is only another view of adjectives. The mind that thought of "light," "heavy," "gray," "yellow," "still," and "swift" also conceived of the magic that let heavy things fly and turned lead into gold and earth into running water. By contrast, the world of the 21st century is by and large a world of nouns and verbs -- things and motions defined solely by their monetary value. What you see is what you get.

In my fantasy universe, artists would touch everything we construct with their transforming magic, enriching our imaginative and conceptual lives in the process. I suppose the closest we have come to this in my lifetime was WPA support of artists and writers in the late-1930s. At the very least, those depression era projects recognized that artists contribute as much to our national well-being as do hedge fund managers and plumbers.