Focus: Fiber 2008 — By selecting "innovation" as the theme for this juried show, the organizers behind Focus: Fiber 2008 likely wanted to help textile art shed its rep as nothing more than macramé belts and baskets woven by aging hippies. Indeed, the works here were constructed using methods that were groundbreaking at one moment or another: weaving, dyeing, embroidery, quilting, painting, and digital inkjet printing on fabric. No real theme emerges in this disparate collection of fibrous objects. But some pieces stand out for their craftsmanship, concept, or both. Among them: Christine LoFaso's Sweatshop Worker Series, which features two glittering banners of woven metallic black and gold yarn. Each depicts a close-up of the face of a young girl or boy, cuing the viewer to consider where the garments on their own body came from. Also, Linda Ohrn-McDaniel displays an elegant jacket of raw silk, decorated at the waist with embroidered and beaded ants, calling attention to the diligence necessary to complete the labor-intensive tasks involved in textile art. Brooks Harris Stevens, meanwhile, contributes "Beginning," the most compelling of the bunch. The black and brown design, digitally printed over the entire swath of linen, resembles the lines of a topographical map, while the hand- and machine-stitched embellishments form a volcano-like protrusion on one side of the fabric, creating a literal representation of topography. Innovation indeed. Through June 21 at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., Cleveland, 216-687-2103. — Theresa Bembnister
Bittersweet — The title implies pleasure mingled with pain and conjures up associations with memory. And that's just what Margot Ecke's "archive" addresses. Ecke collects an assortment of miscellaneous objects — a used German World War II-era glass eye, Cuban postage stamps, a pinecone — and places them in tiny boxes decorated with pink and blue plaid. She arranges these packages on a table, surrounding an old-school typewriter — the one used, presumably, to transcribe the poetry that's stuck to the inside of the box lids. An exhibition checklist also details how Ecke landed each object, with methods as mundane as eBay and as personal as raiding Grandma's sewing box. The delicate packaging and hints at history spark feelings of nostalgia: These items were important to somebody somewhere at some time, and viewers are invited to fill in those blanks. The installation is paired with intaglio prints by Ecke's fellow University of Georgia printmaking professor Shelly DiCello, whose chosen medium also references memory. To create an intaglio print, an artist scratches grooves into a metal plate, which is inked and pressed against a piece of paper to make an image. Words and numbers appear throughout her prints, but are rarely completely legible beneath layers of lines and gray tones. DiCello's aesthetic is that of lyrical documentation, a tentative revelation of visual responses to ideas and emotions. Through June 14 at Zygote Press, Inc., 1410 E. 30th St., Cleveland, 216-621-2900. — Bembnister
The Formal Absences of Precious Things — Tannaz Farsi's work has presence. It must be reacted to, not merely looked at. Farsi fills the room with oversize, clear vinyl pillows, over six feet tall and four feet wide. As viewers maneuver through the claustrophobic space, four plastic tubes run from the side of each pillow up to the ceiling, attached to a hidden, incessantly droning air compressor that keeps the pillows constantly puffed. Fluorescent lights placed behind the translucent pillows emit an eerie glow, adding to the otherworldly atmosphere. Farsi projects four videos on the gallery wall — nearly still images of outdoor scenes, shot from her apartment. Set off to the side, a pair of disembodied arms and hands, cast in clear resin, rests above what appears to be a control panel covered in dozens of knobs, suggesting that this surreal scene is under the command of some unseen force. The tubes running from pillows to compressor imply a lifeline or interconnectivity. Farsi's mastery of sensory engagement is impressive; the sights, sounds, and sense of space transform the gallery into a sterile area with an unsettling quality. Through May 31 at The Sculpture Center, 1834 E. 123rd St., Cleveland, 216-229-6527. — Bembnister
Through Wilderness — Philadelphia artist Hilary White's artwork is a mash-up of apparent opposites. Her sculptural paintings, on cut wood panel and plastic, are steeped in religious symbolism and conveyed through an immaculately crafted punk aesthetic. And you don't have to be a theologian to appreciate the creepiness of the ascending doves or circlets of golden rays that appear throughout her work. White uses this Christian symbolism to address a spiritual or mental quest; she writes that throughout the Bible, the wilderness is a place of both trial and renewal. But her paintings are full of secular symbols too. Dump trucks, toppled pine trees, and wood-chippers serve as reminders of today's shrinking wilderness, while bears and vultures are depicted feasting on smaller animals, reinforcing the cycle of life and death — a theme also seen in images representing Christ's passion, such as the dogwood branches and the crown of thorns. Perhaps most impressive, however, is White's masterful combination of dozens of tiny, delicate three-dimensional pieces, collaged together to create brilliantly colored, unified wall-hanging artworks. White, who graduated last year from the Savannah College of Art and Design, presents a body of paintings that reflects a maturity, attention to detail, and conceptual richness not commonly found in the work of artists so early in their career. Through June 15 at Front Room, 3615 Superior Ave. #4203-A, Cleveland, 216-534-6059. — Bembnister
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