Marika's video Conversations, screened on a monitor, trades symbolic action for an impressionistic montage of recent documentary footage of people pulling up plants from what look to be muddy rice paddies combined with a bit of similar vintage black-and-white farming footage and sequences of people moving boulders. The images, all from Cambodia, include vintage shots from the era of Pol Pot's massacres. John Holland's soundtrack of throat singing, animal howls, and cute ditties is unsettling, but the images don't identify themselves as being from Cambodia's "killing fields," and so it's not clear why we should feel such foreboding about what looks like typical rice farming.
LIANES NANTAISES: Sheila Hicks’s long, bound strands of wool, silk, and raffia suggest Rapunzel’s tresses, dreadlocks, and mangrove trees.
Back at Carroll and Sons, New York artist Sheila Pepe fills the two main galleries (through February 19) with Common Sense Boston
, a giant cobweb of black rope, knotted shoelaces, and various shades of crocheted blue yarn. It has faint goth echoes of Eva Hesse, but mostly it reads like a fun kids' spider-web-climbing gym. This is one of three string-and-yarn exhibits in the area right now, and the one that most reflects how the bad-ass attitude injected into knitting by Stitch 'n Bitch and the like has made traditional fiber crafts cool again.
Paris-based Sheila Hicks was a major figure in the fiber-art renaissance of the '60s that pushed textiles toward sculpture, but she's often overlooked by histories of post-war art. "Sheila Hicks: 50 Years," organized by guest curator Joan Simon for the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover (through February 27), is billed as her "first major retrospective."
Having studied with Bauhaus color theorist Josef Albers at Yale and been inspired by the indigenous weaving of South America, Hicks switched from abstract painting to weaving in the 1950s. Placemat-sized weavings, animated by the changing directions in her patterns, feel like homey, rough-hewn versions of Minimalist grids. Banisteriopsis (1965-'66) transforms Minimalism's serial repetition into a maximalist pile of brilliant bound gold-and-green strands that in cross-section resemble a pile of flowers.
Sometimes Hicks falls into the oatmeal blandness of 1960s and '70s macramé and knitting magazines, as in her wall pieces for corporate offices. But the art comes alive in Lianes Nantaises (1973), which resembles long, bound, Rapunzel tresses of wool, silk, and raffia flowing from ceiling to floor. Such tall, cascading pieces in rich, muted indigos, pinks, and oranges look like crosses between dreadlocks and mangrove trees; they radiate a mysterious humanity and wonder.
"Fred Sandback: Sculpture and Works on Paper" at Wellesley College's Davis Museum (through March 6) is a mini survey of one of the canonical Minimalists. Here are six of his signature yarn sculptures — which well predate the Stitch 'n Bitch phenomenon — featuring lines stretched taut along gallery walls and in the spaces between. They resemble geometric drawings floating in thin air.
In one 1980s artwork, two designs bridge a corner of the room: a horizontal red-yarn line and, above it, a yellow-yarn rectangle missing its top line. Your mind craves to complete the rectangle. A wall piece in black yarn from the mid 1980s looks like a horizontally stretched letter H or some sort of mathematical symbol. Untitled (Sculptural Study, Broken Triangle), from 1989, outlines a three-story-tall triangle.