Emily Klass at Craftland; China Blue at Newport Art Museum

Interpreting patterns
By GREG COOK  |  August 9, 2011

KALEIDOSCOPIC Klass's Lattice Five.

The main motif of Emily Klass's pen and black ink drawings is circles. Circles within circles within circles, each ring built from hundreds of wobbling, little corn kernel shapes, so that all together they look a bit like braided rugs. In her sharp exhibit "The Sound the Door Makes When It Opens" at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through August 20), she arranges the circles with other circles that seem to orbit and dance around each other, or merge together like pairs of microscopic cells.

Klass studied at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and RISD, built custom bike frames at Circle A Cycles in Providence, and now resides in Brooklyn. At RISD, she majored in sculpture, and she fashions highly polished abstractions (not seen here) out of walnut that look like eccentric river stones, out of oak that look like mini-boat hulls, and out of cork slabs that resemble insect wings. The closest sculptures to these drawings are twin 2010 pieces made of coiled white duct tape and porcelain that resemble cross-sections of a tree trunk. Her drawings, she writes, are "inspired from cycles of growth and decay in both the man-made world and the natural world."

Drawings like this can often feel obsessive, like the spiky mazes high schoolers doodle in notebooks to pass class time. But Klass imbues her drawings with calm and regularity, more like the pace and mood of knitting. Perhaps this is because she seems to draw in a similar manner to knitting, building the compositions unit by tiny unit, with just enough wobble to give them an endearingly handmade feel.

Sometimes the circles are corralled by triangles or squares or hexagons, and they form into patterns that bring to mind mandalas or atomic molecules or a diagram of the Sephirot of the Jewish Kabala. Sometimes the patterns have ragged edges or are riven by black lines, as if they're torn or unraveling. Or they can bring to mind celestial bodies, satellites, or even Star Wars' Death Star. But mostly the patterns kaleidoscope with elegant, black and white psychedelic vibrations.

FAUX BUG A detail from Blue’s Firefly 2.0.

China Blue of Rhode Island also teases out patterns from nature in her "Firefly Projects" at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, through September 5). Inspired by news reports that scientists are beginning to suspect that firefly populations may be in decline, she devises computer programs and LEDs to mimic the blinking mating flashes of the North American firefly.

Firefly 2.0 is four jam jars with large faux bugs inside. When viewers pass close, they trigger the electronic insects to light up, buzz, and jiggle inside the glass like wind-up toys. Firefly Trees is two seven-and-a-half-foot tall posts wrapped with wires in patterns that might suggest bark. Straight rods jut out like branches. Faux fireflies are clipped to the rods, and blink on and off in irregular patterns like blue LED Christmas lights. The structures are unsatisfyingly schematic, seeming more like coat racks than trees, which keeps them from getting into the magical territory that we often identity with fireflies.

Three photos documenting Blue's Firefly Cloud show a cluster of LEDs suspended under a weather balloon that she then pulled through a neighborhood at night. Blue programmed the blinking to imitate the rate of firefly flashing. The photos are unclear about just what is going on, but they suggest the most potential for realizing the artist's intriguing idea. Putting the blinking electronics back into nature, hovering under a balloon subject to the vagaries of wind, Blue begins to merge technology and nature, the artificial special effects with the natural wonder.

Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal.

Related: Treasure trove, Review: Be more Curious at SPACE Gallery, Traveling critic seeks art to review, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, Newport Art Museum, Newport Art Museum,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious

 See all articles by: GREG COOK