Two solo shows at the Philadelphia Art Alliance invest hours of labor in the reconfiguration of modest objects that most of us live with every day: books and cloth.
In Found Subjects by Philly-bred and San Diego-based designer Sondra Sherman, exquisite pieces of handcrafted jewelry sit nestled in books from decades ago forgotten. “It doesn’t quite look like a jewelry show when you see it,” says Chief Curator Sarah Archer, who joined the Art Alliance in July. “Jewelry is hard to display in a gallery setting. It is usually displayed on a person.” Far away from the bodies they might usually adorn, Sherman’s jewelry lives in a library. “What I love about this project is that it plays with the idea of where jewelry lives,” Archer says.
Over the course of several years, Sherman carefully cut out pages from found books in order to form perfect nests for every piece of jewelry. Each pendant loosely corresponds with the graphics and themes of the book in which it is placed. An airplane charm sits inside a map book, its chain trailing over Africa like a flight chart. A fringed oval locket placed in “Julia Newberry’s Diary” echoes the oval-shaped setting of Newberry’s portrait on the opposing page. Nestled in books rather than dangling from a neck, these pendants aren’t immediately recognizable as jewelry—they’re more blatantly sculptural.
“This installation challenges you to really look at the jewelry as an object in space and not just an object to be worn,” says Archer, referring to the fact that the books and the lecterns on which they rest are just as much a part of the artwork as the jewelry itself. But the focus, of course, is still the jewelry. The pieces are undeniably beautiful and their fugitive relationship to the books gives them a secretive air. Like childhood treasures stowed in DIY safes, Sherman’s jewelry glints with forbidden allure. “She liked the idea that jewelry kind of lives a double life,” says Archer. “It sits in a box and then it goes out into the world with people wearing it.”
Richmond-based fiber artist Andrea Donnelly’s exhibition, Binary, also explores the theme of doubles. Weaving biomorphic abstractions that read like Rorschach tests, Donnelly plays with the structure of weaving to subtly modify its internal logic. This means dealing with warp and weft, the inherent double on which the process of weaving is built.
“Body Blot #1” (2011) is the result of an arduous process of weaving, unweaving and reweaving. After photographing herself in different poses, Donnelly reproduces her favorite gestures in woven cloth. Typically rendered in muted blues, grays or purples, these colored forms undergo a further dilution when Donnelly removes the warp (the vertical threads) from the initial weaving in order to weave a mirror image of the first shape using the original dyed warp. “My real interest in mirroring is not in perfect symmetry,” says Donnelly, “but in the subtle to not-so-subtle disruption of that symmetry.” Displayed side by side, it’s easy to see what she means: the shape on one panel is woven entirely of horizontal threads (the weft) while the other is comprised only of vertical threads (the warp). The alteration is nearly indiscernible, but the shift makes all the difference. We’re simultaneously invited into her process and mesmerized by the rhythm of her unorthodox forms.
In “Shift,” (2010), the centerpiece of the show, Donnelly uses a technique known as “warp painting” to individually dye each vertical thread as she weaves. Reflecting on the significant time investment that such a piece demands, Donnelly writes: “Weaving is a solitary process: I see mood, quiet presence, and the passage of time in the subtle irregularities of a hand-woven structure.” If you get close enough to her remarkable weavings, you will, too.
Through April 21. Philadelphia Art Alliance. 251 S. 18th St. 215.545.4302. philartalliance.org