The Buffalo News
Date: Friday, November 01, 2002
By: By BRUCE ADAMS – News Contributing Reviewer
Illustration: “Elements,” one of Sharon McConnell’s large-scale sculptures rendered in pig gut, is on exhibit in Big Orbit Gallery.
WHAT: “Sharon McConnell: Trace Elements”
WHEN: Through Nov. 16
WHERE: Big Orbit Gallery, 30-D Essex St.
The human body has served as a source of artistic inspiration ever since our ancient ancestors crawled out of the primordial ooze to contemplate their mortality. Ever since – from the plump iconic femininity of the prehistoric “Venus of Willendorf” to the recent self-mutilating body art of Chris Burden – artists have endeavored to define the nature and limitations of that vessel of the human spirit.
At first glance, Sharon McConnell’s two-dimensional serial pieces and large-scale sculpture – currently on view at Big Orbit Gallery – seem unrelated to the human body. They appear as straightforward minimalist ruminations until upon closer inspection their deceptive simplicity gives way to multiple allusions of human biology.
Moreover, instead of distancing the audience with carefully constructed coolness as minimalism often does, McConnell’s fiber-based works possess a delicately seductive character, infused with an emotional resonance that draws the viewer in. This visceral attraction is largely dependent on the artist’s two principal materials, the first and most significant being pig gut.
Contrary to expectations, McConnell processes the gut into parchmentlike gossamer sheets the color of pale flesh. Onto this delicately textured translucent skin she embroiders blood-red symbolic images or text. This flesh and blood metaphor and evocative stitching combine to form a kind of reductionist view of human temporal existence.
A case in point is the monumental sculptural piece titled “Elements,” which reduces the human body to a short list of active ingredients. A yard-wide gut scroll unfurls from ceiling to floor forming a gentle diagonal slope. Down the front is embroidered a list of chemical elements found in the human body. Beneath the scroll, loose strands of embroidery thread stream down, forming crimson pools on a vivid white base. The draped shroudlike material and cascading red thread create an effect that is alternately dramatic and subtle. The whole piece emits an inner glow suggestive of a spiritual presence, and pleads the case for humanity as something more than simply the sum of its parts.
Across the room, a wall-mounted work titled “Tracery” continues the theme of human mortality. It is comprised of 20 enlarged sets of embroidered thumbprints, each centrally positioned on an 18 feet by 18 feet sheet of gut mounted on white felt. The label states that each set consists of an overlay of a parent and child’s thumbprint.
The superimposed linear prints – perhaps suggestive of genetic fingerprints – delicately merge into unpredictable patterns. Dangling red thread-ends hint at trickling blood, giving the patterns the faint, unsettling appearance of flesh wounds. All this contributes to a sense impending loss; recognition of the ephemeral nature of the human body.
Variations on the body theme are employed throughout the exhibition. In “Cell Matter,” McConnell stitches textbook style illustrations of human organ cells onto the gut material. For “Study for Leavings,” she employs twisted floral images that mimic human organs. In every instance, the dark and weighty subject matter is rendered palatable through the delicate allure of intelligent design.
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