Review of "Floored"
at the Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, NC
Visual Trickery is the Highlight
Floored, an exhibit of traditional and unconventional floor art that recently opened at the Cameron Art Museum, is a mixed bag. The traditional floor art - Persian, Iranian and Indian rugs - is beautiful, but, like a game of flashlight tag in which one player is armed with a prison search light, it's outshined by the contemporary installations of Devorah Sperber. Round the corner and you're "it."
Lie like a Rug, the play-on-words-title for one of Sperber's pieces, lies on many levels. Up close, it is 18,000 many-colored marker caps, the identifying colored sticker dots on top working as pixels to create the image of a Persian rug. Turn around and view these ordered caps, life size rug scale, in a convex mirror and the pixels coalesce. What you know as the reality, that these are marker caps, becomes unsure.
By Sperber's mind tricks, I am floored.
During a phone interview from her large-works studio in Woodstock, N.Y., Sperber tells me of her interest in "just how subjective reality really is" - how our brains determine what our biased eyes report. Before she had a neurological vocabulary, as a child in Denver who preferred building a fence around a horse pen than sewing or making crafts, she wondered, "What is real?" With no knowledge of color theory, Sperber, as a child, questioned whether or not she and her girlfriends were seeing the same color purple.
Pondering heady questions like this one is not a requirement for viewing her exhibit, unless you are like Sperber, "fascinated by the biology of vision," or you are like me, who hassles magicians after their acts. The visual understanding is very simple.
Shag Rug is an 8-by-16-foot short forest of 165,000 multi-colored chenille stems that form a soft, undulating earth tone rug reminiscent of the 1970s and patterned with heavy black whips like a scribbled tornado - from a bird's eye view. The pixel materials bleed together with a squint (though one of Sperber's signature illusionist mirrors is present to assist) and the viewer may recognize the image as Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm.
Assembling that many pipe cleaners into a miniature mangrove of a master work is no small feat, but Sperber assures me that "making the work is the fun part. It's meditative. It's addictive." Originally a stone carver, Sperber loves "working on the same project for a period of time," but she traded stone for map-tacks, marker caps, chenille stems and spools of thread when she first saw a jpeg file at low resolution. She begins her work digitally, making the decisions of what image and materials, "maths it all out," orders supplies and assembles.
She has recreated everything from a Chuck Chose in chenille stems to the Mona Lisa in thread spools to a life-size VW bus with shower curtains and stickers (view these at her Web site: www.devo rahsperber.com). "My process is compartmentalized," says Sperber, the scientist in disguise.
But Shag Rug is a series. Wall-mounted replica shag rugs step down in scale seven times to the final one, a mere two stems in all. Seen in reverse, stepping up, it's germination: the imperfect curving stems like the kindergarten exercise of growing a plant or, in this case, growing a Pollock. After creating this, a neurologist friend explained it to her as "neurological priming, training the viewer's brain to make sense of the visual imagery."
Stepping down in scale, we recognize the two stems as Autumn Rhythm, trusting her vocabulary.
Trickster Sperber also enjoys the humor in the duality of her work: recreating the work of a macho artist (Pollock) with mundane material, and that the deceiving basis for Lie like a Rug was not even a real Persian rug, but a 1920s power-loomed American imposter.
But the joke is on us all. "Human perception is so limited," Sperber says. "We only see a smidgen of the universe. We are living in a tiny band of scale." A disadvantage she taunts - and arouses - us with in Floored.