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“Blurring The Line: The Art of Thread” at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery
by Richard Speer
Oct 2008


As a medium, sewing is laden, if not saddled, with the collective cultural history of craft, femininity, and the trappings of domestic life. The group show “Blurring the Line” aimed to recontextualize the needle and thread circa 2008 by way of four artists, all female and all with ties to the Pacific Northwest, a region whose character was as much forged by hardy pioneer women as it was by lumberjacks and longshoremen. The show’s thesis—that formally rigorous, painstakingly executed work transcends sexual or aesthetic ghettoization—was less than revolutionary, however, this did not detract from its pleasures.

Jen Pack’s intricately sewn chiffon, stretched across wooden frames, by turns evoked color-field painting and kente cloth. Her Green/Yellow Diptych, with its gorgeous silk striations, recalled her work in previous solo outings at the gallery, while pieces such as Green Bikini evolved in less sumptuous, more conceptual directions. A sheet of green chiffon shot through with unruly thatches of blood-orange thread, the work evoked hirsute profusions or viscera glimpsed as if with X-ray vision. This proved a welcome foray into the outré for an artist normally concerned with pristine form and the absolutism of beauty. Meantime, Diem Chau’s embroidered figures on silk organza, displayed on dinner plates, depicted women sans faces, only half-filled-in with fabric. In these ciphers lurked the question of how much of contemporary womanhood is anchored to traditional mores, how much is predicated by free will, and how much is a tabula rasa awaiting new paradigms.

For her part, Hildur Bjarnadóttir created patterns in tatted cotton that referenced the traditions of her native Iceland. Her doily-like Doodles in green, black, red, and blue suggested that quoting folk-art forms (with appropriate smatterings of irony) is perhaps the sincerest (if not the most visually satisfying) form of flattery. The show’s sculptural presence came courtesy of Linda Hutchens, who sculpts pieced organza to create her work. Shaped like eggs and braided rope, the works were delicate, smooth, and transparent, suggesting a duet between material and immaterial, the there and the not-there. As such, they came perhaps closer than any entry in Blurring the Line... to concretizing the often problematic relationship between the feminine mystique and the post-feminist condition.

“Red Doodle,” 2007, Hildur Bjarnadóttir, Tatted cotton yarn, 16" x 15"
Photo: courtesy of Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery

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