Please Hold and Hug: Felt Experience
And ArtLords and Tape Art’s collaboration at BMAC
It happens like this sometimes. Something specific draws me to the Brattleboro Museum of Art, and then something else causes me to fall in love. The planned part of last week’s visit was to check on the progress of re-created murals by ArtLords (Afghan artists whose art was destroyed by the Taliban last year in Kabul) and Tape Art (click here for earlier story). More on those in a moment. But a different installation caught my eye, my hands, and resulted in something close to full-body contact.
Stephanie Metz’s works (photos, top and above) are suspended over an elevated platform that looks out on the railroad below. They are six off-white, curvy felted forms with friendly-sounding names: Grub, Nubbins, Veiny Bulb, Quad Concavities, Boxy, and Curvy Plains. Here’s the unexpected: a hand sanitizer station and printed rules for engagement, like “Please hold and hug the Hanging Pods,” that invite the viewer to touch, embrace and walk among the sculptures “at a safe speed.” It’s a gentle antidote to years of no handshakes, fear of hugs, constant eyeballing and adjusting to maintain social distance. It’s addictive.
FELT IS AN ANCIENT MATERIAl, predating woven cloth. It connects us to the earth and its animals; it is an extraordinarily sensorial medium imbued with history. Felt can awaken childhood memories of a predigital age when our direct interaction with the world helped to awaken our senses. Think of the protective feel of warm wool sweaters, the pungent smells of animals in petting zoos, or interactive childhood books with small patches of soft fleece meant to teach about touch. —Katherine Gass Stowe and Sarah Freeman, Curators
The Metz installation is part of an exhibition titled Felt Experience. In an adjacent gallery are more deeply tactile (but maybe not for touching) works, like Ruth Jeyaveeran’s “Drift,” hollow white tubes akin to rolled slices of Swiss cheese, tipped in red (photo, below),
and Liam Lee’s “Untitled Chair 01” (photo, below). Felt Experience includes also works by artists Marjolein Dallinga and Melissa Joseph. It is on view until October 10. For further information, including an excellent digital walk-through of the exhibition and a Felted Gnome Workshop on October 8, please click here.
Meanwhile, Leah Smith of Tape Art is working alongside the Afghan artists on new versions of the murals in another part of the gallery, where visitors like me are free to look on. She has swathed a gallery wall with a gossamer fabric, and stops long enough to explain to me. Tape art’s medium is layers of low-adhesive (think painter’s) tape. Leah rips off a length and simultaneously scrunches and sticks the tape to fabric. “I’m making a face, for example,” she says, as her fingers work to fashion a nose in profile. All figures are life-size and free-form, no sketches. I confess aloud that my own efforts would look like the kindergartner’s stick figure of a person. Hers has depth and personality.
Reconstructed pieces of the original murals are combined with figures created through tape art. The ArtLords and Tape Art artists (Smith and partner Michael Townsend) have already mounted several of the reconfigured murals, numbering seventeen in total, outdoors throughout Brattleboro, including at BMAC itself, the Latchis Hotel, and Hermit Thrush Brewery, through August 28. A map showing all locations is available through the museum.
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Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.