The Alternative Arts Alliance Open Show, which closes this weekend, is an annual demonstration of just how difficult it is for artists to create credible installations. Thank goodness an antidote is at the ready: Vital Connections, an intelligent and deeply felt installation by Virginia Folkestad that currently occupies the front space at Edge Gallery.

Folkestad, an acknowledged master of the medium, has exhibited work in installation form since 1988. In this latest show, she has filled the Edge space with sculptural contraptions that remind us of furniture--or, perhaps, machines for living.

The installation consists of five parts that, according to Folkestad, "all say the same thing in different ways." The form of a lamp "table" made of welded steel appears in each of the wholly separable elements and reflects Folkestad's continued use of domestic life as an underlying theme. But the artist says she'd prefer we ignore that aspect of the work and instead see the welded-steel tables, four of which have only three legs, as symbols of "our connections as humans to the natural world."

The assemblages that feature the three-legged tables are kept from falling over by a cord made of oil sisal and attached to the ceiling (and in some cases, the floor and walls, too). Held in place through the use of chrome hooks and pulleys straight from the hardware store, the cords pierce the tabletops in beautifully trimmed holes where one would expect to find the missing fourth leg.

In each of the four tables, the opposite end of the cord-rigging is balanced by a woven-wire organic form that hangs above the floor. Each of these constructions suggests a plant or animal shape, and in three of them Folkestad underscores the point by weaving the wire around fallen leaves--one with aspens, one with maple, one with oak. The artist says these metal baskets symbolize the natural world, but like the tables, they could just as easily symbolize humans. The implication is clear--humanity is held together through an elaborate relationship with nature.

In the fifth element, Folkestad presents a different take on the nature issue. This time the table has four legs and contains a makeshift press made of a drill bit, metal panels and sheets of cardboard. But the object to be squeezed is a rock that will not yield. In this case, Folkestad seems to be making a statement about the futility that ensues when humanity sets itself against nature.

Over the years, Folkestad has shown pieces that display technical virtuosity in a wide range of crafts, including carpentry, casting and even plumbing. In Vital Connections, it's weaving, carving, welding and assembling. Because of the wide range of techniques employed, it's easy to assume that Folkestad has her works executed by craftsmen, a fairly common practice. But that's not the case. Folkestad takes what she describes as a "hands-on approach," building everything herself.

At the risk of offending emerging talent at the Alternative Arts Alliance, installation-artist wannabes should inspect Vital Connections firsthand. They'll see how easy it looks when it's done by a pro.