'Round town: ''Cultivar'' and ''Sleight of Hand''

New works at AS220 and Craftland
By GREG COOK  |  July 23, 2010

ART_Shadravan_main
WHERE ARE WE? Shadravan’s Middle of Nowhere.

Jen Raimondi’s “Cultivar” exhibit turns AS220’s Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through July 24) into something of a haunted house, with odd stuff sprouting from bouquets of dried flowers and silicone replicas of human bones.

Bouquet for May is a careful arrangement of dried poppies, ladybugs, moss, and mouse skulls on blue velvet in a round walnut frame. Mushrooms sprout long black hair; little white shelf mushrooms grow along the stump of a Christmas tree, which has a tiny drum set perched on the end. A little oddness can go a long way; with so many weird ingredients, Raimondi seems to be straining for the bizarre.

Raimondi's series of human bone sculptures is better. Pelvis with Button Mushrooms offers a fleshy pink pelvis bone sprouting tiny deathly pale white mushrooms and, from the tailbone, fine wavy blonde hair. The crotch, reduced to bones but sprouting long (pubic?) tresses, is a charged mix of sex and death. And mushrooms signal rot and regeneration.

This sort of goth surrealism has become a regular alternative to the cool detachment that pervades art officialdom. It depends on mystery and surprise for its punch. So the challenge is to keep goth’s now-familiar set of Adams Family ingredients — bones, biological specimens, fire, creepy kids and dolls — from feeling like stock answers, like clichés. Despite her obvious craftsmanship and thoughtfulness, that’s where Raimondi falters.

ART_Bouquet_main
ODD Raimondi’s Bouquet for May.

AS220’s gallery (115 Empire Street) is presenting paintings by Bijan Shadravan and Holly Gaboriault. Shadravan’s canvases look like “bad” thrift store paintings. Frankly, most of them aren’t very good, but then there’s a few like My Mom and I. A black silhouette of a woman runs along a wire fence holding (it seems) a string of ribbons above her head. A silhouetted child follows close behind. These black details sit atop a sky of gloppy bright rainbow stripes of acrylic paint and a ground of marbled swirls resembling the surface of Jupiter. It radiates hallucinatory energy.

Gaboriault depicts traditional African tribal scenes and critters wandering the savannah. She struggles with faces and her African subjects have a kind of colonial Lion King vibe. But her portraits of elaborately decorated traditional African tribal masks reveal her strength: crisp rendering of jazzy, overlapping, contrasting patterns.

"Sleight of Hand" at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through July 31) rounds up five embroiderers as evidence that stitchery "has moved beyond silent monograms and flowers; it is a thread of conversation, and it will be heard." Guest curator Rebecca Siemering of Providence Art Windows and new director of the Arts & Business Council of Rhode Island, is sharp to note the rise of embroidery, but the art isn’t as strong as the theme.

Traditional women’s handcrafts have increasingly moved onto center stage in the art world. RISD grad Kara Walker’s cut-out paper silhouettes might be the most prominent and striking example, but locally you can also see it in the crazy knitting and costume-making of Fort Thunder, Dave Cole’s giant American flags knit with construction cranes, Liz Collins’s tag-team Knitting Nation events, and Cristin Searles’s organisms stitched together from beads, organdy, and crinoline.

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