It takes two venues to tell all the stories in the Fiberart International. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It takes two venues to tell all the stories in the Fiberart International. 

In recent decades, the definition of fiber art has developed far beyond functional jacquard throws, loom-made rugs and woven shawls. And as the exhibit Fiberart International 2010 reveals, the very definition of "fiber" has similarly expanded, embracing elements as unexpected as X-ray film and polyvinyl chloride.

Because of its breadth, this year's International, presented by the Fiber Arts Guild of Pittsburgh, is divided between two venues: The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Society for Contemporary Craft. Jurors Mary Ruth Smith, a professor at Baylor University, Danish fiber artist Vibeke Riisberg, and American Crafts Council member Rebecca A.T. Stevens have chosen 85 works that most broadly define fiber as an expressive medium.

At the PCA, there are clear-cut references to traditional production, like American Jan Myers-Newbury's "Wildfire" (2008), a quilt of intricate stitching over dyed and gently bleached cotton. Other works explore territory previously charted by painters. Canadian Barbara Wisnoski revisits both Impressionist color palette and Pointillist technique with the fabric swatches that comprise her lavender sunset and green-to-blue expanse of "field" (2008). American Jane Gaskins even achieves a kind of photorealism, with "As You Find It, Leave It" (2009), a bas relief of wrinkled denim-covered legs rendered in cotton cloth, polyester batting and multi-colored nylon threads.

Yet it is when the works move into a fourth dimension -- into elliptical narrative -- that they most inspire speculation. Witness the visceral, "Best in Show" work "Healing Sutra #3," by Erin Endicott, of New Jersey. From her great-grandmother's white cotton tablecloth, Endicott cut the shape of a toddler's dress, whose snowy color and incorporated lacework strongly resemble a christening gown. It appears associated with misfortune, apparently some violent tragedy, since the brown of dried blood (actually walnut ink) is splattered across the chest, with its greatest intensity over the heart. The "healing" ostensibly takes the form of intricate red embroidery that stretches out from the wound like new veins.

Nearby, Australian artist Brett Alexander creates a visually startling work with "Vilify," composed of unbleached paper strings, fiber-reactive dyes and leather boots, which indicate that the figure splayed out in one corner -- as if shredded -- was once human. The "head" end, where the fibers fan outward, is red, suggesting pulpy human wreckage. The work, with its title, implies the dire ramifications of disparaging remarks.

American Charlotte Hamlin's "Understudy," made of linen and shaped tapestry, is initially a curiosity. The breast-shaped mound, surrounded by a cotton frame of buttonholes and strongly resembling flesh-colored surgical gauze, may indeed be the substitute for a human breast. Again, the hidden narrative keeps the viewer carefully regarding it.

At the SCC, meanwhile, French artist Brigitte Amarger's undated "Corps Etrangers (Strange / Humanoids)" has a similarly visceral impact. X-ray films -- depicting dental panorama, jaw bones, brain scans, vertebrae, intestines and metal pins -- are cut like puzzle pieces and sewn together with red whipstitches to resemble a suspended human form. A dozen of these figures hover just above the ground, like ghostly apparitions, conjuring unpleasant associations amongst health care, pain and the inevitable.

Yet humor, too, is present. Canadian Dorie Millerson's 1-inch-by-1-inch-by-2-inch red needlepoint-lace "Car" cuts an icon of petroleum-reliance down to size. Back at the PCA, American Stephanie Metz's felted wool "Muscle Heifer" (2010) is all body and no head -- just the way (one might joke) consumer culture prefers commodities to be.

Expanding convention and defying expectation, Fiberart International 2010 is both juried showcase and field definition. Its works offer aesthetic odes, witty commentary and underlying narratives that make it worth seeing -- perhaps more than once -- before it travels to Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, N.Y.


Fiberart International 2010 continues through Aug. 22. Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside; 412-361-0873), and The Society for Contemporary Craft (2100 Smallman St., Strip District; 412-261-7003)

Embodied: Brigitte Amarger's "Corps Etranger" - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.
  • Photo courtesy of the artist.
  • Embodied: Brigitte Amarger's "Corps Etranger"


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