Jensen and Warchol’s ‘Precious Objects’

The fabric of life
By GREG COOK  |  September 26, 2012

SENSUAL SNAPSHOTS Instead of a Camera.

Maren Jensen's subject is memory. How do we hold onto, how do we honor our memories? In "Precious Objects," a two-person show with Julie Warchol at 186 Carpenter (186 Carpenter St, Providence, through October 6), the Providence artist tries to answer the questions with pillows and blankets and banners.

Fabric arrives offering its own statement — colors and patterns and textures. But Jensen's fabric has an additional history — passed down from loved ones, particularly her grandmother. In Memoriam of Memory is a banner of stitched together stripes of pink and orange fabric that trails off ragged and unfinished at the bottom. A wreath of fabric roses encircles embroidery stitched across the middle reading "1923-2010-." That extra dash at the end is curious. As you might suspect, 1923 is the year of her grandmother's birth. But you only learn by talking to Jensen that 2010 is the year her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's — which makes the symbolism of Jensen's fraying edges clear.

SMALL COMFORT One of Warchol’s tiny pillows.

Instead of a Camera is a long, narrow quilt of stripes of used fabrics, no two the same. It hangs down the wall and several feet across the floor. Near the top the artist has embroidered flowers, and on proceeding stripes, the words "Min Familie Arvestykke" (Danish for "My Family Heirloom") and "Snuttetrasa" (Swedish for "Security Blanket"). For Jensen, the title asks how a quilt might be a collection of snapshots that she keeps adding to. The great length suggests both comfort and perhaps anxiety — how much blanket will be enough to keep you warm?

For me, textile art often brings to mind the title of Mike Kelley's 1987 quilt "More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid." Jensen combines handsome craft with hints of this emotion. More than most other handmade things, afghans and quilts seem to have the love, the concern, the care literally stitched in.

Jenson's work is paired with little embroidered pillows by Julie Warchol of Northampton, Massachusetts. They're charming art-insider gags. Her designs are homages to icons of 20th-century hard-edged abstraction — Josef Albers's squares within squares, Ad Reinhardt's checkerboards, Barnett Newman's vast fields of flat color accented by the occasional vertical stripe. Part of the humor is shrinking giant, macho, serious paintings down into little impractical pillows that fit in you hand. Then there's the intellectual question of how the original abstractions rhyme with traditional quilts and knitting patterns. But even if you're not in on the joke, the patterns are catchy — especially Frank Stella's vibrating cross and nested "Us."

LIVING HISTORY Jensen’s In Memoriam of Memory.
Los Angeles artist Dawn Kasper is perhaps best known for performances in which she staged living tableaus imaging her own violent death. But this spring, she was one of the sensations of the Whitney Biennial, the New York museum's regular roundup of American talent, where she squatted in the museum, surrounded by the contents of her studio for a "three-month durational installation." This meant Kasper hanging out, making some collages and drawings, listening to records, chatting with museum visitors and, on one occasion, arguing with a friend who accused Kasper of sleeping with her girlfriend.

Kasper is reprising the installation in "Everything You Could Ever Want & Be, You Already Have & Are" at the Cohen Gallery at Brown University's Granoff Center (154 Angell Street, Providence, through October 5). "Kasper's exhibit is part of the nomadic studio practice experiment," the Brown folks note. "Looking at this one-month exhibition as a full-time job, Kasper will work here every day, conducting workshops, holding studio visits, performing, playing music and making new work."

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