PDX Contemporary Art, Portland, OR
by Richard Speer
Marie Watt addressed her Seneca Nation heritage in Marker, evoking the ways in which Native American travelers tied fabric strips around trees and other landmarks to mark trails and water sources. In fabric-based pieces such as Lamp and Sky World, the artist sewed imagery of branches and roots into reclaimed wool and satin. Totem depicted a tree with multicolored strips extending up its gently curving form, while the more fanciful Tether showed an enormous swath of elaborately patterned cloth wrapped around a tree trunk as if fluttering in the wind.
Semi-abstract works visually quoted the wool blankets commonly passed down among family members in Native tribes. Axis Mundi showed a vertical panoply of blankets climbing through the composition’s center, circles on either side representing the sun and moon. Concentric stitching around the circular motifs heightened their geometric panache.
The imposing sculpture Trunk occupied the center of the gallery. Fashioned from stacked cedar planes, the work nodded again to the stacked wool blankets that have become Watt’s stand-in for the generations symbolically stacked atop the shoulders of previous generations in a vertical line from past to present. The sculpture was rough-hewn on one side, smooth on the other, and shaped like abstracted cloth whipping in a strong breeze. The choice of wood type was significant, as cedar is used in closets to protect wool from moths. The exhibition also included an interactive installation entitled heirloom, in which gallery-goers were invited to sit at a specially appointed desk and write stories about heirlooms they were given by family and friends. An audio component replayed the stories told by previous participants. Spanning diverse media, Marker cohered around the ways in which long-established traditions continue to hold relevance to our contemporary journeys.
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