Lauren DiCioccio: Familiars

Familiars –  review of Lauren DiCiccio’s solo exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery

By Michal Gavish

michal gavish LD Jack Fisher sThree skirted cloth sculptures stand in the entrance to the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco. Well-known Bay Area fabric artist Lauren DiCioccio stitches these large stuffed figures from scrap cloth. In an elaborate process she prepares their fabrics out of colorful cloth straps and weaves them into checkered warp-and-woof patterns. She then tailors the woven cloth over an armature and stuffs it with leftover material. The sewn group poses in an intimate setting, gesturing with irregular limbs at one another. They are caricatured but their interactions are personal and touching.Michal gavish Jack fishe exoskeletal LD sm

In the second part of the show, separated by a dividing wall, the artist arranges long backstage tables with an assortment of stitched variety. The colorful array displays small creatures of unusual shapes and strange extremities. Their fantastic features create a pseudo-scientific set of exotic breeds. Made of many types of fabrics, some of the figures appear with their armatures exposed, creating strange, exoskeletal species. Others are only partially covered, exposing their gobbled-up cloth innards. DiCioccio does not resolve her shapes. She lets her audience wonder about the nature of her fictional species as their inner and outer surfaces become indistinguishable.

LD groupThe small statues on the tables look like they came out of a toy-box. Their bizarre shapes trigger the imagination: some look like old handmade toys, others invoke extraterrestrial monsters and still others remind of fairytale creatures. This room shows the matter of imagination. It is out of these objects that the artist creates and imagines the scene presented in the entrance.

This exhibit provides an opportunity to see DiCioccio extending out of her comfort zone. She abandons her objects in favor of figuration and moves from groupofsmallsrepresentation to semi-abstraction. Abdicating her familiar and safe practice of embroidering ready-made objects, she now sews her invented figures from scratch. Instead of interpreting she fabricates new figures, shifting her practice to sculpting in cloth.

On view until October 18th, 2014

at Jack Fischer Gallery

311 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco

@2014

michalgavish.com

@michal_gavish

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Doodles in Space – The Art of Lauren DiCioccio

Despite Lauren DiCioccio’s relative youth, “what a long, strange trip it’s been” seems apropos.  An eclectic mix of life’s side alleys and back roads have informed and transformed her art. She has both sought and embraced opportunity at every turn.

Shortly after graduating from Colgate University a decade ago, she decided to travel, making ends meet with itinerant employment along the way.  Off she went to Sydney, where a chance posting lead her to hitch a ride into the Australian Outback. She worked as a short order cook at the end of a long and dusty road.  I cannot help but hear refrains of Jevetta Steele’s “Calling You” from the movie, “Bagdhad Café” rattling around my brain.  Much like a character from that movie, she is both social and not.  The isolated existence was a low-cost, contemplative place to make art.  Quiet interludes offered the opportunity to focus on abstract paintings that, at that time, continued the work she had been doing at university.  Twice weekly all of the local residents would gather to share newspapers, letters and other news, albeit slightly time warped.  Thus, the café offered socializing as well on a limited basis.

When she returned to the States, she began a requisite job search.  Once again, an “outside the box” opportunity appeared and off she went to spend six years as a resident manager at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.  It was another job that embraced the yin-yang of her social and hermit natures.  Djerassi, which is located in Woodside, is definitely down a back road; with no television and very limited internet.  There was, however, a rotating cast of resident artists.  Here, like in the Outback, the arrival of mail and the newspaper was a call to socialize.  The newspaper, in particular, became a touch point with the outside world – in a way defining her relationship with it.  She was drawn to employ it physically in her art. She started by using the newspapers to make a quilt.  This was the major turning point in her work.  Her art became more physical.  It detoured into an exploration of materials that were being being used.  The materials that appealed were materials with a particular transient quality.  Not only were the materials ephemeral, in and of themselves; they were also representative of a transience in our world; a world where we transition away from books and newspapers and slides and plastic bags.  Initially she would transform the materials, beautifully embroidering newspapers that were destined to decay.  Later, she began to meticulously reproduce the objects, in the tradition of trompe l’oeil; objects like her Chinese take-out “Thank you” plastic bags, replicated in bridal organza embroidered with silk thread.  She took books and embroidered over the letters on the page, using color-coding to create a secret language; presciently forecasting a time when the letters themselves will likely fade into a secret language accessible only to a small cast of scholars.  Like trompe l’oeil, with Lauren’s work, what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Lauren is a collector.  However, in a life lived out of a suitcase, physically collecting objects is not really feasible.  So her collections are not collections in a box or drawer.  Rather they are collections of memories.  There is a nostalgic, wistful quality to those memories.  With Lauren’s art, the process of remembering how things used to be distills them into something more profound.

The current exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery is an amazing opportunity to see yet another turn in her road.  The familiar objects are there.  There are the trompe l’oeil objects:  playing cards and U.S. currency in various denominations.  There is a collection of color-coded books.  Then, the exhibition detours with some wonderful new surprises.  There are embroidered pages of sheet music and recipes.  These are indirectly explorations of our senses.  They explore the yin-yang of “sense” deferred then realized.  The objects are encoded sensory journeys where, once de-coded, the sound, smell and taste leap off the pages.  There is also a collection of white mice and rabbits that been eviscerated.  The appeal here is a yin-yang exploration of cute and grotesque.

The separate explorations intersect with a particularly important piece:  “Cookbook with Braised Veal Heart”.  In dissecting her eviscerated rabbits and mice, Lauren pulled out the organs as separate works.  These are not anatomically correct organs; rather they are what she feels the organs should look like. When she pulled out (created) a veal heart, she decided to combine it with a cookbook page containing a recipe for braising the heart.  It is one of the most powerful pieces in the exhibition.  And, while many of the pieces in the show are available separately, Jack Fischer explained to me that Lauren felt strongly that this was a singular piece and that it needed to stay together.  One cannot help but agree.

It was the creation of these fantasy internal organs that led her back to her roots in abstract art.  As she was fashioning the organs, her subconscious would take over.  Objects took form of their own accord – representing no specific real world objects.  She and I agreed that it was almost like doodling.  And, when I mentioned it to Jack, he too embraced the idea, christening them “Doodles in Space”.  It’s an amusing idea.  However, the objects are not simply random doodles and they are not randomly assembled.  As with traditional still life, each pedestal in the exhibition is a still life composition.  Like traditional still life, there is a celebration of collecting and displaying things.  Also, like traditional still life, there is symbolism embedded in many of the components of the composition.  And, like traditional still life, there is a level of technical mastery.  While the individual pieces can certainly stand-alone, the compositions are greater than their component parts.  One cannot but hope that some curator will decide to give one or more of the collections the home that they deserve.

This is Lauren DiCioccio’s third solo exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery (49 Geary St., San Francisco). It will be on display through September 8th.  There will be an Artist Reception this Saturday, August 11th from 3:00 – 5:00 pm.  It is a great chance to meet a wonderfully articulate artist.  For inquiries about her work, please contact Jack Fischer Gallery here.

Marks Left Behind – The Work of Camilla Newhagen

What is the nature of art?  That is, of course, the subject of endless debate and many books.  For me personally, what elevates some art is an element of exploration in the work that transcends or informs the object that is produced.

Growing up in a small, socialist enclave just outside of Copenhagen during the politically active 70’s, Camilla Newhagen was surrounded by intense intellectual discourse about the world around her.  The discussions were challenging and engaging.  She developed a heightened awareness of the world that was rooted in that experience.  Her formal education was in art and design at the Danish design school, Desingskolen Kolding.  So, it was a natural progression for her to combine her socially-engaged childhood with her art.  When she moved to America in the late 1990’s, she began exploring the stark differences between American culture and Danish culture.  Art was a vocabulary for that discussion.

I recently met for coffee with Camilla and we discussed the topic of cultural differences.  I spoke a lot about the differences between Japanese and American culture.  For Camilla, it was the somewhat more subtle, but still substantial differences between Danish and American culture.  And, more recently, it has been differences within those cultures in how men and women are perceived and how they interact.

After the meeting and in response to the lively discussion that we had, Camilla sent me some of the ideas and quotes that she was posting on the wall of her studio by way of helping her to formulate an artistic statement for an upcoming exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” – Kierkegaard

Much of Camilla’s work grapples with the idea of making sense of our world by examining the marks that are left behind as we pass through life.  There is this idea that memories are embedded in the objects that we have touched; physically manifested and preserved in these materials.  And, somehow, in ways that are not entirely clear, by utilizing the materials – found objects – in sculpture, those experiences are transmitted and become a part of the piece.

“Psychological scars interest me, taboo and the impact they have on our physical bodies”

Camilla had a studio in the Mission district of San Francisco.  It was an area of San Francisco that was frequented by a lot of prostitutes.  She was fascinated by the physical impact that this life had on its participants.  Aging was not uniform.  From the back, the bodies of many of the women remained attractive.  However, close up, the horrible impact on their faces could not be ignored.  Housed in the same building as her studio was a second-hand store.  Camilla would purchase second-hand women’s undergarments from the store; deconstruct the garments; and re-assemble them into soft sculptures.  The result was an exhibition: “What Women Want” which is more of a question than an answer.

“Identity crisis interest me, new beginnings and transformation”

Moving to America in 1998 after becoming newly married, Camilla started to explore what it was like to be a man vicariously through her observations of her husband.  Her starting point in many of her explorations is specific.  Her process is to study some something specific – in this case, her husband and her father – as a means of understanding something more universally – in this case, men.  The study of her husband resulted in a 2009 exhibition:  “My Husband”.  And, that study continues in a more generalized fashion in her current exhibition which features works re-constructed from recycled men’s suits and dress shirts.  She studies the burdens that men carry in their lives and the marks those burdens leave behind in their unofficial uniforms.

“Things unsaid”

I asked Camilla if she started her work with a specific idea in mind, or if she simply started sewing her pieces together and they took their own direction.  For her, it was both.  There is always an idea that she has in mind when she starts the piece, but she also allows the media itself to exert a measure of control.  The finished piece often continues to have a mind of its own.  Once finished, there is always the question of whether or not the piece is successful.  Does the piece have a voice?  What is it saying?  She will place the piece off in the corner of the room and stare at it for days.  And, interestingly the piece continues to evolve.  Reinterpretation often takes her in a unexpected and different direction.  The pieces do not speak but they have a voice.

Camilla Newhagen is currently studying in the MFA program at Mills College.  She recently exhibited one of her works, Dominatrix, in an exhibition at ARC Gallery in San Francisco:  “Dollhouse” – that was juried by Jack Fischer.  That work led to her upcoming exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery: “Coupling” where she and John Hundt are the featured artists, that is opening this Saturday, March 12th from 3-5pm.  You can see Camilla’s work in that exhibition through May 7th.  You can also arrange to see Camilla’s work by appointment.