Material engagement forms the connective thread in Build, a show of six emerging and established Bay Area artists whose work spans photography, drawing and sculpture. While the theme might, at first, seem overly broad, it quickly snaps into focus in surprising ways.
The most memorable works come from Maria Porges, a well-known conceptual artist and Bay Area critic who’s output has long been a showcase of material ingenuity. Here, she fashions found books into sharp-edged geometrical forms and appends them to common tools: spades, shovels, axes and saws. Presented in a wall-mounted installation, these hybrid objects resemble a gallery of medieval weapons, at once humorous and threatening. Reversing the swords-into-plowshares metaphor, they affirm the power of words, and also stand, to a lesser degree, as a memorial to books. Porges doesn’t comment on the content of the tomes she employs; she paints over most of the covers in solid colors, the result being forms that nod to Cubism, Constructivism and origami. By rendering the tools useless for any practical purpose other than imaginary warfare, Porges invites comparisons to Bella Feldman and also to Giuseppe Penone, the land artist who mixes natural and man-made objects to arrive at oblique and often disturbing meanings.
Beyond this the show drifts. I enjoyed the op-ish pull exerted the inked portions of Annie O’Dorisio’s drawings, but found the lines she makes of threaded wool a little too precious. Karrie Hovey’s wall-clinging vines made of recycled plastic and book pages folded into flower-like clusters topped by tweety birds feels mawkish, like a Hallmark card sentiment. For a superb example of how needlework and drawing can be combined, check out Eleanor Wood, and for an excellent example of how an artist can manipulate recycled media in the manner attempted by Hovey, look to Mitra Fabian. Neither are household names, but if you’re looking for standard bearers in these two niches, they’re the ones.