At this exhibit, it’s hip to be square |
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Brooke Marks Swanson Grey and Gold Terrain; 2015 Leather, 18k gold

Titled with the phonetic spelling for cube, “Kyoob,” the exhibition currently filling Society for Contemporary Craft’s Satellite Gallery in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station at One Mellon Center, Pittsburgh, features craft works that start with that basic form in mind, but go somewhere completely off the grid.

The exhibit was originally featured in The Annex Gallery at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. And, as in that exhibit, here it features over 20 original works represented by 17 artists from across the nation, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

The mediums used are as varied as the artists, and ranges from solid forms in sterling silver and steel to malleable works in leather and wool.

For example, wanting to construct a perfect cube form in two contrasting ways, Dallae Kang of Northborough, Mass., created two silver rings, “Solid Cube” and “Hollow Cube” with the former by filling up the inside of it, and the latter by outlining the outside of it. “That’s how “Solid Cube” and “Hollow Cube” were created,” she says.

“I like geometric forms, especially sphere and cube,” Kang says. “To me they are perfect in terms of balance and harmony. Balance and harmony are two important values I live by as an artist. A sphere looks same no matter how you look at it. A cube is consisted of six same/equal squares. A square is, to me, also a perfect geometric shape having same length width, and angle. So, I find a cube more intriguing because it’s made up with perfect shapes.”

Conversely, Kathleen Janvier of Irving, Texas presents smashed versions of the form with “Squashed” and “Ajar.” Here electroformed copper cubes have been created and deconstructed in a successful attempt to create what Janvier describes as “imitations of strength inevitably betrayed.”

Then there is the work of Brooke Marks-Swanson of South Bend, Indiana. Her hand-crocheted leather brooch “Grey and Gold Terrain” is the furthest from the cube form, yet still alludes to it.

“I hand knit and weave leather into cube forms, along with small precious elements of recycled high karat gold,” explains the artist. “There is a softness and tactile quality of the leather form due to my unique knitting fabrication of the material.”

Marks-Swanson says her work is and has been about a sense of place and her love for the Midwestern landscape. “Something I developed a deep connection to while in graduate school at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana,” she says.

Marks-Swanson is quick to point out that she did not make this brooch specifically for Kyoob. “It fit the description in the call for entry quite nicely,” she says. But rather, “it describes how man continues to work tirelessly to groom and control land, land that emerges in tidy divisions — a vista of geometry amidst the wild.”

Though most of the pieces on display are by professional artists, there are a few student works, which are real standouts.

Andrea White of Chippewa Falls, Wisc., is currently a student at University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, Wisc., pursuing her BFA in metals and contemporary art jewelry.

In making her piece “Contribution,” White says she was thinking about building blocks. “I wanted to make a building block that represented my Midwestern take on the types of materials that are helpful, not hurtful, to the climate crisis that we are facing,” she says.

The sides of White’s building block are made from goat horn from a friend’s farm where goats are milked for organic goat cheese. The inside is filled with sheep’s wool from Washington state. White says the sterling silver structure that contains it all “elevates their (the goats) status.”

Also an undergraduate student of metals and contemporary art jewelry at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Claire Kayser’s piece “Waking Up with Silver 12/613” commands attention for its unusual combination of materials – a brass and silver box from which falls a silver-grey synthetic hair extension.

“My current work focuses on examining the substantial influence that media provides as societal pressure,” Kayser says. “This type of pressure gravitates towards obsessively defining beauty, by means of evaluating self-image, individuality, and value.”

In essence, Kayser is using the cube form as a metaphor for society’s pressures to “fit in.”

And as for the use of the silver hair extension, well, Kayser says it directly relates to her sister changing her hair color to a silver-grey, “simply to keep up with the most recent trend.”

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic.

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