UNE’s Women Pioneers deepen inquiry

Joining disunity
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  April 4, 2013

GREETING THE DAWN IN A MANNER BOTH SACRED AND PROFANE’  Mixed media by Marlene Ekola Gerberick.  

Third of four in the UNE Art Gallery's series of Maine Women Pioneers, the curators describe "Worldview" as an exhibit of artists "who are connected to their world . . . inspired by ethics, emotions, and existential holistic themes, as activists, healers, and visionaries." That's a definition with a pretty broad reach, and no surprise that each of these eleven career artists falls somewhere within that rubric. Yet while some of this work might benefit from greater explication, the show's great pleasures come from tracking the real-world inquiries leading these artists far from the conventions of form.

Natasha Mayers is our most logical, accessible starting point. The galvanizing Midcoast maker produces visual work in myriad forms — from mural-painted telephone poles to bitingly ironic camo upholstery — but it wouldn't be overstatement to say that the most profound impact of her work comes from the practical effects it has on the ground. Four stills here attest to that: from last year's annual Fourth of July parade in her hometown of Whitefield, a spectacle of vaudeville and leftist-activist pasquinade of which Mayers is a key organizer. A large totem of acidly satirical license plates fashioned for the parade frames American life through a series of dysphoric filters, while downstairs, the exhibit expands into a substantial slide show, with splattery, impressionistic scenes evoking the horrors of Guantanamo, militarism, and corporate culture.

Judy Ellis Glickman is one of Maine's most renowned art photographers, and her four lyrical black and white stills — from Cuba, Chile, and Nazi concentration camps in Poland — are masterful in their capacity to render an emotional subtext through darkness and light. We get formally much lighter fare from Barbara Goodbody, a nuanced photographer steeped in Indian cultural aesthetics, though her digital prints shown here felt too distant and synthetic to transport me.

Our show's theme is more carefully guarded in the work of Marlene Ekola Gerberick, a Finnish artist living in Maine. She makes dark, detailed, and poetic assemblages from curiosities both found and domestic. Several are symbolically rich and ritualistic yet nearly impossible to parse, but I found some ingress into "Moving Toward Tuonela," a sculptural tableau depicting a figure of a horse standing beside two sets of forearms reaching up from the ground like stalagmites. It's a ghastly, cheeky scene, one that hinges on a pun: Tuonela both refers to a breed of horse and the Finnish word for the underworld. In a series of emotional, mysterious pieces, there is no point of entry more explicitly visible in Gerberick's work than here.

Alice Spencer's large acrylic canvases look like decorative tapestries from afar. "Kasaya #1" is a collision of garish, colorful patterns borrowed from African textile and drawing traditions. Spencer applies them through paint in irregular rhythms, with a result so counterintuitive and mechanical as to appear almost like a computer rendering. Her "Yardage" series sees indigenous patterns from another angle, taking the shapes and colors of displays from market villages without approximating the products. In broader conceptual gestures, fabric artist Melita Westerlund plays on similar dissonance, relying on a monstrous disunity between color and form. She shows several three-dimensional cotton fiber sculptures, each mutated into rippling, convulsive shapes. Another Finnish artist in Maine, Westerlund borrows from African and American fiber traditions to make work that could convincingly be from another planet.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Natasha Mayers
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