The Universe, Two Ways


I recently went to a screening of the film Handmade Nation at Portland's excellent Museum of Contemporary Craft. And while the movie was good, what really stayed with me was what I saw on my way to the screening room. Seattle artist Mandy Greer's installation Dare alla Luce, which closes next week, manages to combine macro and micro in the most striking of ways: The installation comprises ropy tangles of fabric that hang from the ceiling like primordial chandeliers, shimmering with shells, beads, and buttons. Beaded orbs and stars hover between them, and a huge black pelican holds court in the corner, its mouth spilling streams of sparkling fabric onto the floor of the space. Getting up close to the different parts of the installation, it's impossible not to marvel at the intricacy of each one — what look like random masses of fabric and yarn are carefully sewn, crocheted, beaded, and knotted.

That the mood is simultaneously earthy and ethereal makes sense given
the piece's title—"Dare alla Luce," which translates as "to give to the
light," is an Italian metaphor for the act of giving birth and a
reference to the origin of the Milky Way. (The creation myth has it
that the breast milk of the goddess Juno shot into the sky to become
the galaxy.)

I'm always blown away by this kind of art, where what appears random is the product of hours upon hours of planning and placement. Not to mention how curious I am about the artists' process: Did Greer know, for instance, where every knotted, beaded, shell-embellished bit of fabric was going to be placed as she constructed them? Where did the shells come from? Did she create it all in her studio, or was she crocheting a bunch of it in front of the TV? (And if she was, would it change my perception of the art if I knew she was watching, say, Law and Order: SVU?)

For the record, you can hear Greer discussing her process here, and you can watch a great video of the, uh, installation of the installation here. But Dare alla Luce reminded me of another artist who invokes the heady wonder of the universe in her work: Vija Celmins. The Latvian-born Celmins creates images that are as detailed and as throught-provoking as Greer's, but in a completely different way: Her paintings, prints, and graphite drawings of ocean waves and night skies are hypnotic and absorbing — even the smaller works offer that disorienting reminder of how very tiny we all are in the face of boundless water and space.  

It's all kind of humbling, isn't it?

by Andi Zeisler
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Andi Zeisler is the cofounder of Bitch Media and the author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. You can find her on Twitter.

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Yay! So glad you posted

Yay! So glad you posted about the lovely Mrs. Greer. I was very fortunate to be able to help her paint the walls and stencils for <em>Dare alla Luce</em>. Was consistently blown away by her skills and attention to detail.

Ah, the (waning?) era of postmodernism - where it seems like an anyone can throw a plastic bag on a canvas, give it a "provocative" name like Quiddity, and call it a response to Sino-African relations. It's wonderful to see artists like Greer who embody the dedication, time, craft, effort and pure talent that comes with great and memorable work.

I want that in my living

I want that in my living room...

I am Mandy's husband, and I

I am Mandy's husband, and I drove a city bus on Vashon Island while dare alla luche was being created. The bus route had a 1/2 hour break near the Tellequah Ferry Terminal and every day I would go and look for stuff on the beach. That is where the shells came from.

The chandeliers began as an idea of hanging things that made up a forest. At first the number of them was not determined. The very first crocheting was done on a 6 day train trip to Virginia and back. As the crocheting strands grew in number, they began to be separated into the different colors. They hung on shelf brackets that lined the walls of the studio and some had so many strands hanging on them that you could not see the shelf bracket. Then the frames where made and colors where partially selected based on amounts of crocheting and sizes of forms. The very last step was crocheting more where it was clear there was a lack of volume. Some crocheting was done in the studio, listening to music, lots of Suphian Stevens and danielson I remember and johanna Newsome.

Some was in front of Movies. when it gets crazy and something really needs to get done, often Mandy and I will sit in front of the computer (we have no TV) and we will do hours of work while watching some Rented TV series. I think this time around it was Heros and The Wire. Another piece, Small But Mighty Wandering Pearl (go to Mandy Greer's flicker account for images) was all 5 seasons of Six Feet Under (Just beading the antlers.

One of my tasks as Husband was to finish up the beading on the Moon for Dare Alla Luche. I spent almost an entire week at the studio. Mandy had to rent a werehouse space to finish up the show and it had no showers. I would stay up 36 hours straight and then sleep and wake up and bathe with a 5 gallon bucket of water and start beading again. I would listen to Suphean Stevens on the ipod on shuffle (there is about 7 hours of Supheon.

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