By CHRISTINA LAUREL
Written for Artkestry
Sinewy, spiky, suspended. These descriptors emerge the moment I encounter Prologues, showcasing the work of sculptors Robin Cass and Elizabeth Kronfield, and painter Karen Sardisco in the new gallery r located in the Neighborhood of the Arts. The handsome architectural space is worth noting, but it is the unexpected narrative flowing among the three artists’ works that demand my immediate response.
Sinewy trompe l’oeil basketry in cast iron, “Empty Basket,” is displayed on a foundation of 8×8-inch rough-hewn wood, evoking agricultural artifacts from an archaeological dig. Kronfield speaks about the “pairing of specific handmade and/or natural elements with industrial materiality” – a concept flawlessly executed but mentally challenging. How does one reconcile the disparity of a relatively lightweight coiled and woven hemp basket that is now seemingly petrified into the heavyweight iron introduced in 1200 BCE? There is a funereal element in these oversized baskets, possibly a reference to the paradigm shift occurring with the death of one Age and the birth of another. The transition from Stone to Iron ages meant going from hand to machine, from organic to metal, and from rotting to rusting.
Kronfield’s sinewy basketry in gallery r’s first room evolves into a spiky floor installation spanning the length of gallery r’s second room. “Linked” literally interlocks the Stone, Iron, and Bronze ages via three massive Georgia marble stones anchoring a chain of triangular cast-iron spikes that vary in scale, as well as closed and open form. Within each span is one patinated triangle, perhaps a token precursor to the incoming (Bronze) age. Cast shadows comprise yet another formal element in “Linked,” albeit a less tangible and weighty one.
Gallery Coordinator Zerbe Sodervick introduces me to Sardisco when we find ourselves in the gallery at the same time, allowing me the opportunity to pose a question about her painting “Happenstance.” It is impossible to miss the correlation of the open-weave basket imagery in her piece, placed visually above “Empty Basket.” “Were Kronfield’s baskets installed before or after the placement of your work?” Sardisco’s response, “After,” is followed by the observation that there is indeed a “nice dialogue among the artwork.”
Sardisco suspends layers of milky acrylic washes on large-scale Arches paper, incrementally revealing a personal iconography — a decipherable language imbedded in her series “Parts & Whole.” Coils, seed pods, vines, stag fern, and chromosomes are among the nature-themed, recurring symbology that is stroked and scumbled onto the substrate. Sardisco’s work is as much process as product, including the pushpin holes in the corners. In her own words, painting is a “process to study memory and experience.” It is her experience as a second-generation Italian-American, and her memory of living in 1950s surburbia with a grandmother steeped in her homeland’s religious culture, that inspires and infuses the most colorful of Sardisco’s pieces, “Devotion.” Coiled thorns encompass an empty space that could just as easily accommodate her line-drawn heart; the “sacred” heart of Sardisco’s fused memories.
Sinewy, spiky, suspended. Spiky thorns in Sardisco’s painting hang above Kronfield’s spiky triangular links. The intellectual, physical narrative continues. In Cass’s blown and sculpted glass sculpture, spiky formations radiate, including ribbed antelope-hornlike cones that twist, curve and spiral. These cones are grouped with clusters of clutching tendrils and protruding ocular formations, and have titles such as “Crested Vermillion Vibrissae” and “Flagellated Vorticellae with Efflourescence.” The overall effect is one of marine zoology on steroids. “I am essentially making my own oddities,” according to Cass, who references the cabinets of curiosities in Renaissance Europe. Painted circles frame each wall-mounted sculpture, adding effectively to the presentation of these dramatic pieces. Cass recently returned from a sabbatical spent in Japan, as visiting artist/faculty at Osaka University of Arts, where she began developing the prototypes for, in Sodervick’s words, “these creatures that just kind of evolved.”
The exhibit is aptly titled Prologues, with three recognized artists setting a professional tone for gallery r’s inaugural exhibit in its new home. Robin Cass is faculty in the glass program at RIT’s School for American Crafts, Elizabeth Kronfield is associate professor in RIT’s Department of Fine Arts, and Karen Sardisco is assistant professor of fine arts at Monroe Community College.
Zerbe Sodervick, who is also director of extended studies at RIT, explains that the new gallery r is a collaboration representing the entire College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, and will expand to include film, animation, design and print media. Gallery r is handicap accessible, with street and off-street parking. Exhibits are free and open to the public. Location: 100 College Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607; next door to Lumiere/Spectrum Gallery. Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 1-5pm. 585-475-4977.
“Parts & Whole” is supported in part by The Puffin Foundation, LTD.