Making Mends, from Mountains of Salt to Atomic War and Back
Although the organizers of the group exhibition Making Mends say that "a surprisingly small number of exhibitions has focused on the work of artists seeking healing through their art," it might be more accurate to say that few have done it well. Being kind, decent, and helpful doesn't always make for good art. Not that artists aren't shooting for healing even when they're being unkind, indecent, and unhelpful—after all, aren't most artists seeking some kind of alleviation through their art, whether for themselves or for viewers? No, what's surprising is that Making Mends is so moving. How did they do it?
Your first view in the galleries is of a mushroom cloud extending all the way to the ceiling, made of the stuff you lay your head on—the white, fluffy Poly-Fil in pillows. It's called Playhouse, by Dietrich Wegner. Get closer and you see it has a wood ladder thrown down from the top, but not far enough to reach you. Disaster distanced. You can't feel the loss, you can only know it is there, a thread running through the exhibition—this longing to relate or connect to the pain of others.
But artists in the depths of struggle are here, too. Lynne Saad taught art for decades in North Seattle and Woodinville high schools. Her series of small acrylic paintings on gessoed card stock and sewn with thread, each like a locket or a letter, were made while she was dying of cancer. They are her good-bye. Seeing them is like touching a holy robe.
There isn't any holding hands and feeling better. Rather, these artists endure, transform, and put persistently curious hands up to feel out what's coming. Anna Von Mertens sews abstract-looking quilts of the actual star patterns recorded in the sky during bloody historical battles on the ground—Antietam, for instance. Motoi Yamamoto was given an entire corner of the galleries and spent several days pouring onto the floor an elaborate labyrinth made of salt. Its pattern of tiny, fingery paths dissipates as it approaches the far wall, turning into a light dusting of salt that rises into a small salt mountain range against the wall. If you were to make it all that way through the labyrinth, you would still find yourself lost in a whiteout, snow-blind. Yet it's transcendently beautiful, almost the definition of beautiful. Who wouldn't walk into this storm?
Margot Quan Knight's white-on-white portraits almost look like blanks. They are based on stills from her Skype sessions with her family since she moved away, evoking the silences in technological communications but also providing a soothing stillness.
Paul Villinski placed a stack of vinyl LPs against a wall, then cut and sculpted more of the LPs into bird shapes that appear to fly away in a halo flock covering the wall above. It's called Diaspora. Villinski's other piece in the show is a child's wooden chair held aloft by a grimy wing made of old found workers' gloves riveted together. Balanced between sorrow and hope, these objects are reassuring, like the howls released from a row of prints created by participants in the Combat Paper Project. The project teaches war veterans how to make handmade paper out of their uniforms.
The handful of predictable pieces are overcome by the rest: Catherine Grisez's sculpture of jewels made to hang from a naked heel, like stepping on gum, or Debra Baxter's ongoing war with her own emotional responses to events, using the weapons of alabaster, crystals, and mirrors. She wins when she's making, but the battles always seem to keep coming.