Art Review

Review: Virginia Folkestad, Materialis Cover a Lot of Territory

Virginia Folkestad: ...noiseless foot of time installation view, Sandra Phillips Gallery.
Virginia Folkestad: ...noiseless foot of time installation view, Sandra Phillips Gallery. Wes Magyar
Virginla Folkestad, one of Colorado’s premier installation artists, worked for two years on Virginia Folkestad: ...noiseless foot of time, the installation now filling Sandra Phillips Gallery. She began by measuring the narrow storefront, then created pieces specifically for the spaces where they've been placed, in a series of vignettes meant to convey the relentless changes that befall the natural environment.

“We use grids to divide and label the landscape, and the same is true for the measurement of time,” Folkestad notes. Reflecting on this observation, she employed aluminum screening mesh, with its inherently horizontal-and-vertical weave, in many of the pieces. By using the industrially produced material to refer to nature, she poetically injects her idea of the earth being cut up by humanity into the works themselves.

Though all the pieces in …noiseless foot of time have the same subject, they employ different elements and vary in form. In “Suspended in Time," on the east wall, a square is the predominant element, and though screening is a big part of this installation, it’s been overshadowed by embroidery and the plastic used to carry out the overall geometric pattern. On the floor to the left is “Mute,” an installation of stacked wire cages; inside each is a chunk of an aspen’s trunk that’s been wrapped in cotton twine. The imprisoned pieces of wood, which have been cut and bound, are an apt analogy for the degradation of the landscape, though nothing else in the show is as literal and obvious in its meaning.

click to enlarge "Suspended in Time" (on the wall) and "Mute" (on the floor) at Virgina Folkestad: ...noiseless foot of time. - WES MAGYAR
"Suspended in Time" (on the wall) and "Mute" (on the floor) at Virgina Folkestad: ...noiseless foot of time.
Wes Magyar
The visual crescendo of the Folkestad solo is “The Five Scapes,” a quintet of wall-hung sculptural banners: one made with hardware cloth (an airy grid of metal wire), and the others with that now familiar screening mesh. They are reminiscent of ceremonial swags, or even Japanese scrolls, but with a heavy metal accent. The banners have an atmospheric countenance suggesting vapor, but they actually must be very weighty, given all that screening. This heftiness is conveyed not only by the materials, but also by the heavy rigging ropes, mounted with bolts on a picture rail above that's needed to hold them on the walls; one even has steel counterweights attached to the suspension ropes lying on the floor. Folkestad has incorporated a range of other things into these hangings, including thread, cable, twigs and coal, that must have taken a lot of handiwork, despite her usual reliance on found or bought elements as her key art supplies.

In the back are what Folkestad regards as “sketches” for the larger pieces in this series. While the three-dimensional fragments of cut mesh and tangled wire are not directly related to the other works, they're broadly suggestive of them. These “sketches” have a spontaneity and freshness, and are as strong as anything else here — save the sensational "The Five Scapes,” which dominates the show.

click to enlarge Works in organza (left) and Tyvek by Taiko Chandler . - ROBERT DELANEY
Works in organza (left) and Tyvek by Taiko Chandler .
Robert Delaney
The mood conjured up by Folkestad at the start of her show is similar to that of Materialis at Space Gallery. This is partly owing to the work of Taiko Chandler, who also plays with solids and voids. A Japanese immigrant who lives in Denver, Chandler began to make prints after taking a workshop at the Art Students League in 2011. Within a few years she was exhibiting works on paper, and many choice examples are included in this show.

A couple of years ago, Chandler began experimenting again, marking up and piercing lengths of Tyvek, a plastic cloth used in construction. Using dressmaking pins, she gathers the painted cloth on the wall to form an organic shape that dramatically rises off the surface. The looping marks of the printed images on the Tyvek are only loosely derived from the abstract organic compositions seen in her prints, but they are not that far off.

There's only one Tyvek piece included in Materialis, and it's paired with the show's revelation, a new kind of work by Chandler. In “Undulating #2,” a deep shadow-box frame made of clear acrylic bars is filled from edge to edge with what look like soap bubbles or maybe even fog. Dense layers of little domes of a gauzy, transparent fabric have been arranged on top of and beside one another. To make the domes, Chandler wrapped wooden drawer knobs in lengths of organza, tying the material at the bottom of the knobs with cord, in the manner of a wrapped gift, then put them in simmering water and dried them. When she untied the cords, she removed the knobs — but the ghost of their forms was left in the organza. Chandler meant the piece as a memorial to her deceased father, but even if you don't know that, it has an ethereal feel, looking like a fragment of a cloud that’s been brought down to the ground.

click to enlarge Madeleine Dodge's paintings on steel at Materialis. - ROBERT DELANEY
Madeleine Dodge's paintings on steel at Materialis.
Robert Delaney
The sky and the sea are the images suggested by the non-objective paintings on steel by Denver's Madeleine Dodge. The steel panels are mostly cut into rectangles, but also hexagons in a multi-part piece put together like a honeycomb. The surfaces of the paintings are scabrous, like oil floating in a puddle, as though the paints have chemically reacted to each other and to the steel. To get these effects, Dodge employs aluminum pigments and carbon transfers. Using the steel plates gives the paintings a sculptural minimalism, but the complex painted surfaces are very expressionistic, which fights against the less-is-more idea.

click to enlarge Bas-reliefs made of woven fibers by Wendy Kowynia. - ROBERT DELANEY
Bas-reliefs made of woven fibers by Wendy Kowynia.
Robert Delaney
Adjacent is a selection of pieces by Wendy Kowynia, a renowned fiber artist from Steamboat Springs. Though woven, these are sculptures and wall reliefs rather than weavings. Kowynia often takes advantage of the grid that’s the foundation of the weaving process, and in the past, she's done a lot of flat work that could be called post-minimal. However, the three-dimensional pieces in Materialis are almost baroque, while still every bit as abstract as her linear compositions. They're reminiscent of tribal art, like masks or fetishes.

The show finishes with domed ceramic rondels of various sizes by Cuong Ta, a San Francisco Bay Area artist. The rondels are decorated with stripes and shapes, and finished in a dark gunmetal glaze that looks waxed laid over the earthy brown clay. The glaze is controlled, resisting the natural clay areas through Ta’s use of tape to define the patterns. Scattered over the two-story south wall of the gallery, the hemispheric disks come together in an impressive constellation of circular and sculptural elements.

Though the galleries are blocks apart, the compatible abstract and conceptual takes on the landscape in these two shows create a harmonious whole.

Virginia Folkestad:...noiseless foot of time, through June 1, Sandra Phillips Gallery, 47 West 11th Avenue, 303-931-2991,

Materialis, through May 25, Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 303-993-3321,
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia