Art NotesArts & Culture

Distinct Spaces: New Summer Exhibits at OCAF

A Room of Their Own: Focusing on immersive environments, the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation’s new summer exhibitions provide several distinct spaces to explore. “A Room of Their Own” invited five women artists—Hannah Duggan, Lisa Freeman, Alice Schindel, Stephanie Sutton and Chasity Williams—to design their own independent spaces within the larger Main Gallery, which has been partitioned using temporary walls. While site-specific installation-based efforts typically rely on some form of sculpture in order to feel immersive, these artists achieve the sensation by utilizing various media not limited to video, assemblage, metalwork, painting and ceramics.

Never one to shy away from confronting the ugly history of our collective past, Freeman sheds light on the lives negatively impacted by the cotton industry in “Dark Cotton,” a space populated by small assemblages carrying heavy-hitting messages. Freeman, once again, effectively uses art as a language to express issues that are impossible to turn away from, and hopes this exhibition will challenge viewers to contemplate the long-lasting implications of racism and oppression. 

Duggan similarly stares into the eyes of conflict with an installation of very small paintings, each based on photographs that have appeared in the media. Painted images of real photos reflect how their accompanying news stories have been filtered and interpreted through news coverage, and their small scale speaks to how easy it is for events to slip by the radar in a society where we are constantly inundated with messages. 

Not much larger than a photo booth, Sutton’s room, “Music Videos,” is isolated from the rest of the gallery using a heavy black curtain. Inside, a small bench invites viewers to watch a series of vignettes of the artist interacting with her own reflection. Set to a soundtrack of popular love songs by the likes of Missy Elliot and The Breeders, the footage reinforces the idea that love is found through projection.

Exploring themes of freedom, isolation and self-reflection, Williams’ “Shoulders of Giants” presents a variety of works that all share influences of baroque art, fashion houses such as Alexander McQueen and an inclination towards decorative excessiveness. Tied together through a color palette of black, white and soft pink, a fenced-in field of earthenware horses on the wall believably occupies the same reality as a set of classical busts donning fancy undos and complex expressions. 

Similarly drawn to the ornate, Schindell’s room was built for royalty. Rusted tin crowns covered in glittering jewels rest on deep red pillows on top of pedestals across the floor, while tin cutouts of hands make a line across the background wall, also accessorized in found objects. At a distance, the pieces are dazzling, due to the sheer magnitude of rhinestones alone. On closer inspection, they become much more fun as one finds all sorts of random shapes—an elephant, a seashell, a key, an airplane, a horseshoe and so on. 

Sense of Touch: Though a heavy amount of consideration always seems to go into how certain fabrics can create a distinctive outfit or renovate a living space, much less thought is given to how these fabrics are woven in the first place. Local artist Shirley Chambliss seeks to share her love of fiber through an opportunity to reconnect with this ancient and under-appreciated art form. On view in the Members Gallery, “Sense of Touch, Sense of Fiber” is an experiential installation that invites guests to reach out and feel textiles in all of their fuzzy, scratchy, silky glory. 

Remarkably, this is Chambliss’ first solo exhibition of this nature since her thesis show in 1972. After receiving a BFA at UGA, she spent several years working as an architectural interior designer with large design firms. Curious to explore what forms her craft could take once free from any restrictions placed by clients, she returned to UGA to pursue an MFA in fabric design. Since then, she has worked, taught and exhibited across Maine, North Carolina, D.C., Florida and Georgia, and currently works from her studio at OCAF.

Combining her passions for both interior design and fiber, the environment is meticulously staged, with no detail left unnoticed. In the center of the room, a large bed shows off a blanket whose intricate pattern pops when the light hits the thread in just the right way. Long, sheer panels in soft shades of grey, yellow and brown hang along the perimeter of the bed, offering a sense of privacy. Arranged to correspond with similarly colored panels, pillows are suspended on clear string from above, gently swaying and twisting in the breeze in a way that establishes an element of playfulness, as if a pillow fight had been frozen in midair. 

A large collection of framed fabrics appears almost specimen-like in their shadow boxes, exemplifying how easily fibers can make decorative statements that add bursts of color to walls, not unlike a painting. A selection of capelets proves that fabrics can be both functional and fanciful, as each capelet’s color scheme takes inspiration from unique brooches given to Chambliss by friends. Demonstrating a strong awareness of space, Chambliss not only responds to the gallery’s physical attributes, but also to the sculpture garden located right outside of its windows, influencing her choice of color and texture. 

Both “A Room of Their Own” and “Sense of Touch, Sense of Fiber” will remain on view through Friday, July 12.