This is the future we were promised and the power of installation art. Floor-to-ceiling Gütermann thread, anyone? Or a 12-foot strand of silica?
Glass. Thread. Thread and glass. Even five years ago, you wouldn’t be reading these words in an article about the hottest up-and-comers from the current gallery season. With the exception of a few big-name breakaways such as Dale Chihuly or the Gees Bend quilting ladies, contemporary creators who explored traditional craft media were relegated to nonprofit spaces (albeit respected ones) that solely showcased works in fiber, glass, metal, wood and clay. Or they were entrenched in narrowly defined museum departments of design and decorative art, like a spider ensnared in a web spun by materials, not message.
All that has changed irrevocably now. What’s the evidence? Witness this Texas-based duo: Gabriel Dawe and Justin Ginsberg, two artists who live and work in Dallas and whose ambitious, game-changing media has spread, both literally and metaphorically, where few working in yarn or glass have gone before. Read on.
Dawe’s Thread Count
Not since Fred Sandback took simple strands of string and conjured the architecture of a space has another talent done wondrous, meaningful things with a material found in a prosaic sewing kit. Enter Gabriel Dawe. Among the most intriguing and original of recent CentralTrak protagonists, Dawe’s years at the University of Texas Dallas residency program (2009 – 2011) primed him for his magnum opus: a sweeping site-specific creation at the Dallas Contemporary in late 2010 and early 2011. His headlining DC masterwork was extended several months after its initial closing date due to its extraordinary allure of light and color, all formed from a seemingly straightforward yet laborious (100-plus hours in the making) arrangement of colored thread laced into a room-sized chamber. While at CentralTrak, Dawe began creating these signature “Plexus” series concurrently with blithe little drawings that mirrored his larger works and in turn served as studies for the shifting effects of line and hue realized in his three-dimensional interventions.
Then there was his thread-play in Houston. I will never forget the moment I walked into Peel Gallery in September 2011 and encountered Dawe on the top rung of a ladder, wielding a long stick that resembled a pole vaulter’s launching apparatus but ended in a tiny hook. Was this the world’s largest needle? Watching the sculptor dexterously navigate the contraption between almost invisible hooks on rows upon rows of wood strips mounted on the floor and ceiling was hypnotic. Meticulously, meditatively, he threaded that giant rod with multi-hued fiber to construct an enchanting room filled with light, space and yarn. Diaphanous. Surprising.
And there’s a bit of the transgressive in the Mexico City–born artist’s work. After completing his degree in the graphic arts from the Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico, he migrated to Montreal to live and work in Canada for seven years. During his Canadian stint, Dawe segued from graphic design towards exploring media that was traditionally the province of women: textiles and embroidery, all based upon childhood memory and inspired by the tropical palette of his birthplace.
His preferred material — polychrome polyester thread woven by 150-year-old German yarn manufacturer Gütermann in shiny, iridescent hues — has optimistic prismatic properties. The spaces his strands encircle conjure cathedrals of color that appear lighter than air, as if the viewer could walk through walls of pigment. This is art that challenges gender assumptions, reconfigures the notion of craft and women’s work and evokes a new paradigm of art, architecture and design, all formed from the basic building block of fashion: sewing thread. Paralleling the pioneering Latin American modernist Carlos Cruz-Diez, chromatic experience is the end game, but in lieu of employing paint or light beams, humble polyester is Dawe’s sculptural building block. And like Cruz-Deiz, what’s evoked is a new utopia — one the artist underscores is “symbolic of the non-physical structures humanity needs to survive as a species.”
Dawe is dually represented in Texas by Houston’s Hempel Design and Conduit Gallery of Dallas. Catch his latest work at Conduit during the Texas Contemporary Art Fair.
Glass + Ginsberg
Glass matters to Justin Ginsberg. Deeply. This UT grad holds BA and MFA degrees from, respectively, the University of Texas in Austin and the University of Texas in Arlington. He has also studied at the gold standard of glass institutions: Pilchuck School of Glass in Stanwood, Washington (the home of the fabled Dale Chihuly), and the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina (a bastion of creative activity in the Blue Ridge Mountains). Exhibited coast to coast, Ginsberg’s most recent one-person Texas exhibition happened this past May at Houston’s Peel Gallery: a compelling minimalist installation almost shocking in its distillation. Set against a pitch-black wall space, its floating filaments were as long as 12 feet, signaling a new and futuristic way of showcasing silica that breaks free from the notion of perfectly worked vessels or precious objects merely to be acquired then relegated to display cases.
In Dallas, he has made a similar impact by creating boldly reductive interventions into built environments. The most memorable was in 2010, when he participated in “Sustenance,” an edgy group show in an abandoned double-story commercial building in West Dallas, curated by Stephen Lapthisophon and Anne Lawrence. Fellow artists included Frances Baglety and Brian Fridge, but Ginsberg stole the show. The artist’s photographs of this project still send chills: Incandescent reflections bounce off thin continuous threads of glass that seem to levitate in a raw, raw space. A true crossover artist, he makes bowls and vases by classical glassmakers look so traditional, they’re almost staid.
Ginsberg, you see, completely and utterly redefines glass, purifying it down to single strands, pulled by hand, which are forged together by heat to form larger colonies of delicate clusters — glass as calligraphy, mark-making, a new sensibility. Ceiling-suspended via translucent plastic wire, each composition hovers in the void, often dramatically placed against a background absent of much lighting. Occasionally the thin silica hairs, the thickness of a shaft of wheat, begin to break down, reinforcing the metaphor of fragility and adding a space-time continuum. Giclée photographic prints both document the transitory nature of the sculptor’s structures and serve as pieces in their own right. “The two together demonstrate an attempt to preserve the ephemeral, providing a window into a specific moment, at a specific location,” underscores Ginsberg. While glass is his media, ultimately the dynamic handcrafted strands and their accompanying photographs are about broader archetypes and human issues. “My work is an investigation into the beauty, strength and fragility of humans and nature, all which work in balanced systems of erosion, transformation and regeneration,” he says.
Ginsberg is represented in Texas by Hempel Design, Houston. Watch for his next popup, coming this fall to a warehouse in West Dallas.
Gabriel Dawe. Photo Shaulin.
Justin Ginsberg. Photo Jenny Antill.