Wednesday, January 20

Ninja Warrior Face-off

As part of my digital printing class at Tyler I'm required to do a few gallery visits and write critical response to them, so if the following post seems a little dry or overly critical, please forgive me- it was written for a slightly different audience than I usually write. That said...

Gallery Visit #1: Fleisher Wind Challenge artist Heather Ujiie and "Ninja Warrior Face-off"I could not have asked for a more appropriate exhibition to put me in the frame of mind for a digital printing on fabric class. Heather Ujiie is a fiber artist who works in installations of digitally printed fabric hangings. This is the second exhibition of hers I've seen, the first being "Cry Wolf" at Moore College of Art and Design where Ujiie is a faculty member. In both exhibitions her work has had a narrative quality: "Cry Wolf" a more storybook quality and "Ninja Warrior Face-off" a more comic book quality.

In her artist statement she says she was inspired by kung fu flicks, Japanese anime, and 18th century samurai woodblock prints. These influences are evident in the imagery- a samurai warrior at left with a death figure at his back looks as if he has just dealt a deathblow sending a flame-haired demon figure spinning off. In an attempt to recreate the sequential stills of animation she repeats the demon figure both across the main colored panels as well as in 3 transparent panels hung in front of it.To connect the panels in space and to amplify the impression of movement and eruption, circles of flower/mandala motifs taken from the main panels are suspended at varying heights throughout the space. To delineate details in the main panels, Ujiie has plied the needle, unifying the figures through color and embroidery. Decorative buttons echoing the mandala motifs are scattered across the surface.I brought my embroidery students down to see the installation to identify the stitches used, critique the work, and spark their ideas for a future figurative project they'll be doing. They were all wowed by the work, impressed by Ujiie's ambitious scale and use of embroidery, and they were all curious about the digital printing process. I, too, was impressed at first, but then my critical graduate student voice crept in and made me question many of the artist's decisions.
First of all, for an installation it seems surprisingly 2-dimensional. While there is an attempt to engage the environment through the floating disks, it somewhat prevents the "don't-touch-anything-in-an-art-gallery" trained visitors from entering the space, and the entire installation is only truly appreciated from one vantage point. That one vantage point is not even the traditional point at which most visitors to this gallery would usually enter the space, making for a somewhat awkward navigation of the space. (as you can see from the view below, one can't really "read" the image from this direction) As an embroidery artist, stitching in others' artwork is always alluring, however, I'm not a fan of large sloppy stitches. Within the digital imagery, Ujiie included some stitch-like marks, but they don't translate well in this scale to embroidery stitches. (I have the same issues when looking at Orly Cogan's work). I think the piece may have been just as good even without the embroidery and so I question its use.
While I veer between a positive and negative critique, I must say that this exhibition has made me think differently about digital printing on fabric. For some reason I came into my digital printing on fabric course thinking that my imagery must be photographic. However, seeing this exhibition has reminded me that original, imaginative, hand-drawn or painted imagery can also be used in digital printing.

If you are interested in seeing this show it is at Fleisher Art Memorial, 709 Catharine St, Philadelphia, PA and will be up through March 6th.

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