Arts The art capades

Not-so-still life, jewelry that isn't, and hardworking students start CAM with a bang

Russian artist Anika Smulovitz caught curator Rachelle Thiewes eye with her collar necklaces made from used men's shirts.

Karen Mahaffey's video show at Sala Diaz challenged anyone who came to the June 10 opening for a quick art fix (527 Stieren, 695-5132, through July 10). Two small screens, one in each of the main rooms, are imbedded in white walls. The broadcast images are contemporary takes on Dutch still lifes, which are some of the most interesting works, both stylistically and symbolically, in art history's pantheon. Though still lifes are particularly beloved by painters, Mahaffey gives them a makeover with new media. The first video's scene includes a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey, a knife, a glass, and a dish. It seems a still image until you notice the glass of whiskey fill almost imperceptibly. The other room's image is more nutritious. Its still life shows a slowly decaying Asian pear with a slice removed, a glass of water giving off tiny bubbles, and apricots lying together sexily in a porcelain dish. Humid summer sounds - birds, train horns, and a thunderstorm - fill the rooms. On the soundtrack, Mahaffey whispers the words of Zhang Zi, a Taoist philosopher. The light, mood, and pace slow down your heart rate and force you to look carefully, so you can point and shout when you notice the slight darts of light-filled changes in moisture or signs of decay. The show is reserved and smart, like a beautiful woman in glasses.

Uptown a bit, the Southwest School of Art & Craft opened its summer shows on June 16. Hanging in Balance: 42 Contemporary Necklaces is a great surprise (1201 Navarro, 224-1848, through August 14). These works from England, Germany, Mexico, and the U.S. are miniature contemporary sculptures. The display treats them as such, laying them flush with the wall or flat on pedestals with lime green backgrounds. No faux neck and shoulders here; you're not enticed to buy, just to appreciate material and design that shift into sculpture, line drawing, and fashion. These necklaces may be the most modern things you've seen in a while. Many appear to challenge comfortable or traditional wearing and, in challenging the body, also seem to nod slightly at performance and body art.

Hop off your high horse, pardner, and tie it up outside if you're going to the student exhibition at San Antonio Community College (950 Lewis, through September 2). This is a work zone, with too many objects to worry about fine layout and design. In fact, charcoal hand and shoe prints mar the floor and walls, giving the show that messy studio feeling. I love student shows because the work is fresh and there is a sincere exploration outward rather than a self-conscious reduction of forms and ideas. Not to mention some extremely capable work.

Still from videos by Karen Mahaffy, on view at Sala Diaz through July 10.

Michael Coyle's little untitled piles of pink erasers, rubbed down to different sizes, are ziggurats of mistake obliterations. Kristy Perez, who makes excellent abstract paintings, shows yet another side of herself in a 3-D design project. Because these are obviously class assignments - common themes appear throughout - you get the chance to compare and see what works best and analyze it. The gallery is open late, providing an opportunity to look and look, and then get stopped in your tracks. Norbert Martinez made some large, vinyl sculptures but it was his little painting at the end of a hallway that made me stop and stare. I wanted to pull the fire alarm and run away with it under my arm.

By Catherine Walworth

The subject of desire

'Hanging in Balance' curator Thiewes suggests women design jewelry for the experience, not the display

Text and interview by Elaine Wolff

Jeweler and instructor Rachelle Thiewes co-curated Hanging in Balance: 42 Contemporary Necklaces, on view at the Southwest School of Art & Craft through August 14, with Kate Bonansinga, her colleague at the University of Texas-El Paso. The necklaces challenge the definition and role assigned jewelry in modern society. Some of the materials used - rough bronze, gut, iron wire, nylon thread dyed to look like hair, grass and mementos embedded in a resin foot - recall the birth of body ornamentation in our superstitious prehistory. Other creations are futuristic, using transluscent polycarbonate or nylon and acrylic webs to suggest that jewelry might become as insubstantial and enveloping as computer code. As Catherine Walworth notes in this week's Art Capades (see story this page), within corporeal confines Hanging in Balance features some of the most modern work on display this Contemporary Art Month. The Current spoke with Thiewes about the impetus behind the show and laying seige to the boundary between ornamentation and art.

When you first started making jewelry, did you work with traditional materials or were you more experimental?

Oh, yeah. My pieces in school weren't so much jewelry-oriented at all. They were more just body types of pieces. `For` my thesis work in graduate school, I did a series of corsets that dealt with women's issues.

Maru Almeida crafts organic-looking clusters out of hand-felted wool.

My work became more jewelry-oriented once I got out of graduate school, but my personal work still does stretch boundaries quite a bit, and it's very involved with how we move in pieces, and what happens with people when we move. So I've never actually done straight-ahead, easy-to-wear pieces.

Tell me about the show and what you were trying to capture in the pieces you selected.

`Kate Bonansinga and I` were looking for individuals who had a strong interest in doing something with the neck and hadn't done just, for instance, one piece for the neck, had actually done a series of pieces.

At one point we got our list down to that 20 people and we realized there were only one or two males in the show, and that all of a sudden became an issue that we hadn't really thought of before. Women are the ones that are the wearers of most of the work, and so we thought that focusing on women making work for women would be maybe the way to go with it.

We also wanted the show to be very broad in terms of what are the possibilities and how can we define what a necklace is, knowing that most individuals, when they think of the necklace they think, OK, strand of pearls, or they think of a pendant, which is just a chain with something hanging at the bottom. So we were looking for individuals that really pushed.

Wearing "Interlock #1" by Maria Hanson, says Thiewes, will "make you a lot more aware of how you walk, how you maneuver."

How would you define "necklace"?

For me, a necklace can be anything that somehow touches the neck at some point. It might wrap around the neck, it might hang from the neck. But the neck is part of it; it might not even be the focus of the piece, but it might be just part of the structure that's needed to hang onto this piece that's on the body.

So many of the pieces struck me as being not so much ornamental, but more talismanic, or like armor in a way.

Yes. And I think that that is something that you're able to do with that idea of the necklace, because you can really extend the body with it if you want to, and so it does become more of a covering. And some pieces, like Maria Hanson's, you can situate this so it's as low as you want it, or situate it a little bit higher, but I know from experience that in the wearing of the piece, `the cinch` is going to slip up a bit higher, `the bauble` is going to end up down here, so then as you're walking you're having to negotiate the piece. So it means that you're going to have to be a lot more aware of how you walk, how you maneuver, and perhaps even change that a little bit to accommodate the piece.

When you found you only had two male artists on the original list, were you noticing a substantive difference between the work of the women and men?

Well, you know, I think that because women are the wearers, that we probably have a better sense of the body and how the body moves, and just the overall sculptural form of the body. Men don't feel that comfortable wearing jewelry pieces, even though there're many men that make pieces ... they're not really allowed by society to step out that much with what they wear.

Do you think that's why in this show you see more movement in these pieces that were designed by women?

Yes, that wouldn't surprise me because they put the pieces on and they experience them. And then there are experiences they want to have and so they will build pieces that allow them to have particular experiences.

Text and interview by Elaine Wolff


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