Of the Dense and Porous: More Holes by Linda Leslie Brown

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Linda Leslie Brown, Porous, 2015, mixed media.

We are very pleased to welcome a guest writer, Heather Davis, to our blog, for her essay about Linda Leslie Brown‘s exhibition, More Holes. If you’re around this holiday weekend, stop by the gallery to see the exhibition before it closes this Sunday, May 29. 

The forms emerge from and with the earth. Various materials—plastic, ceramic, wood, metal—are pressed and held together in strange, humorous, bodily shapes. Almost recognizable items emerge from the matrix, as odd characters that seem to have been compressed through the pressures of time and weight, emerging as if from the distant future. The detritus of consumer culture is here reworked to comment on its archaeological status to come. Linda Brown’s series More Holes evocatively produces these future fossils, implicitly asking, “What are we leaving behind? What will remain as our material legacy?”

Installation view, More Holes, Kingston Gallery, May 2016, photo by Ann Wessman.
“Materials teach you things” Brown asserts. Working with discarded materials, culled from recycling bins and objects she finds on the ground, provokes questions not only about their shape, size, weight and structure, but about their lives, past and future. In rendering the objects unrecognizable, Brown creates abstract remnants of a society hell-bent on technological progress, heedless of the warnings that are all around us.

Despite the beauty of their forms and the way that they seem to beg to be touched, retracing the movements of Brown’s hand as she worked with the materials, there is something rather banal and sad in the waste. Immune to the processes of decomposition and cycles of transformation that govern our bodies and other organic matter, these objects remain stubbornly inert as if found in some future landfill: broken, cast aside, and then petrified. The objects begin to write our era into the geology of the earth.

Linda Leslie Brown, All Natural, 2015, mixed media. 
The brilliance of Brown’s artistic rendering is in provoking reflection on the meaning of all these objects, all this waste, while still providing holes. The porousness of the work suggests a future already in the process of being reworked. The holes refute ideas of masterful progression, instead creating a sense of the unfinished, while at the same time providing more surface and more entryways into the work. The sculptures look as if animals have already made a home in them, moving through the dense layers of plastic and metal and ceramic. Things that used to have a definitive form, that once had commercial value, appear instead to have become the dwellings of burrowing creatures and waste-consuming bacteria.

Brown’s work collapses the distinction between “nature” and “culture,” and her artworks become an offering that seem to have emerged from the future, eroded and weathered, complete with the markings of many other critters. The porosity of the works reminds us to be humble in the face of our technological advances and the negative sublime of ecological crisis. There is always a way through; there are always more holes.

Linda Leslie Brown, Hermit Crab, 2015, mixed media. 
Heather Davis is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the Pennsylvania State University where she researches the ethology of plastic and its links to petrocapitalism. She is the editor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2015) and Desire/Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (MAWA/McGill-Queen’s UP, forthcoming 2017). Her writing can be found at heathermdavis.com.

From Hide to Skin: Michèle Fandel Bonner

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Hide III, 2014, clothing labels and cotton/linen backing fabric.
Michèle Fandel Bonner, Hide III, 2014, clothing labels and cotton/linen backing fabric.

Today is the final day to see Michèle Fandel Bonner’s show, Time and Materials, at Kingston’s Center Gallery. She takes upcycling to new levels, transforming her own hair into a sculpture that makes the gradual effects of time visible in one elegant tangle, and in her hands, 114 discarded t-shirts become a neat row of crocheted baskets. In her hands, discarded materials become new objects that glow with the attractive aura of “brand-new.” This ability translates into a source of hope, order, and self-reflection, interrupting the typical path of overflow that, uninterrupted, often ends in trash heaps. Indeed, Bonner pulls much of her source material from rejected clothing at the Lifebridge Homeless Shelter in Salem, MA.

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets, 2015, recycled t-shirts, 18.5 X 18.5 X 12 inches.
Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets, 2015, recycled t-shirts, 18.5 X 18.5 X 12 inches.

The stand-out piece is in this exhibition is Hide III, part of a series of three overtly faux animal skins made from clothing labels on linen and cotton backing. Her Hides interrogate our drive to purchase new clothing before older items are worn out. She says the work “addresses how we use clothing to both hide and express ourselves.” This message hits home for me, as I own more than my fair share of J.Crew cardigans, and I don’t see that habit stopping anytime in the near future.

Bonner sources tags from clothes that are past even their thrift-shop days. The clothing is on its way to a fiber recycler to be shredded. To see the tags beautifully patchworked into a “trophy” in her Hide series is the closest I may ever come to understanding how hunters feel when they view animal trophies. It may feel harmless and even virtuous to “hunt down” sales at TJ Maxx, but Bonner wryly, and with virtuoso stitching, offers a reminder of the accumulating effects of compulsive consumption.

The conversation is ongoing, as indicated by a couple of recent blog posts. Denaye Benahona wrote about getting rid of her entire wardrobe on April 20 (she bought more, but much less and better clothes). I’ve recently shared another blog post by the brilliant Betsy Greer, but her April 24 article about Fashion Revolution Day is even more apt and a must-read on this subject. Marking the two-year anniversary of the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people and is considered the “deadliest garment factory accident in history (Wikipedia),” Greer’s article suggests that we mend clothing before discarding it and take note of all that our clothing labels signify.

Yuken Teryua, Corner Forest, sourced from yukenteruyastudio.com

Yuken Teruya’s impossibly delicate sculptures from fast-food bags and cardboard toilet paper rolls offer an initial message of hope and regeneration. However, they also tell us that recycling isn’t enough. Despite their potential, not every used-up roll, empty Burger King bag, or discarded shirt will become works of art. There are just too many. We are beyond recycling. Our resulting feelings of bleakness and discomfort may be productive, as awareness and acknowledgement may lead us to stop repeating ourselves, to resist the urge to buy more, and to remember the impact of things we toss away.

-Shana Dumont Garr