Monday, October 4, 2010

Collaborations With Nature - Janet Van Fleet and Emiko Sawaragi Gilbert @ The Flynndog

There is a fascinating show of wood sculptures, titled Afterward, at the Flynndog Gallery in Burlington, VT, Sept 30 - Oct 29, by Emiko Sawaragi Gilbert and Janet Van Fleet. Emiko's part of the show is titled Cornucopia and Janet's is All Aboard. Both artists have collaborated with nature to create the work. They haven't carved, painted, or significantly altered what is normally viewed as refuse and debris by most people, thereby helping the viewer to see the world in new and interesting ways.

Though not in a formal gallery, complete with gallerina or even a desperate and starving gallerist, this show is likely to be one of the best you will ever wander into in Burlington; the rest of Vermont; or just about anywhere. Better still, the work is also some of the most affordable you'll find anywhere (how often do you find something that is simultaneously the best and cheapest of any category -- the only other example I can think of is the hummus at the Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe in Alexandria, Va.) -- all but two of Emiko's pieces are available to a loving home as gifts from her and the Vermont forest from which they came (contact her at while all of Janet's pieces, which she vows are not returning to her now clean studio, have no prices because she is happy to accept offers (call her at 802-272-5956 and name your price). Hence, this is a great place to do early holiday shopping (Janet's work is available as individual pieces or as their current groupings).

In Cornucopia, Emiko has used "scrap" branches and trees, left over from a firewood collection event, that are reshaped into interesting forms. Each is made from a single, continuous section of a tree. They are so well crafted that you first wonder whether the forms are natural tree growths or caused by some other force of nature (bugs? wind?).

In this one, If I Dream, she has created a womb-like bulb.

If I Dream

Here is another view and closeup of the same piece.
If I Dream (closeup)

The title piece, Cornucopia, is the easiest to identify by its title.

I believe this piece, Janice, is a portrait, but perhaps more a portrait of spirit than physical features.

With It she has created two delicate cocoon-like leaf balls. Has the tree curled up to protect itself from insects or have insects attacked it and drawn the branches together?

Initially, when I saw this single drawing (a series of vertical graphite lines that subtly forms a shadow of a figure) in the show, I thought it was out of place, but after thinking about it a while I realized that it was a metaphor for the rest of the show, a person present, but in the shadows, subtly influencing what is present.
graphite on paper

In Janet Van Fleet's half of the show, titled All Aboard, she has cleaned out her studio and repurposed hundreds(?) of found object sculptures from the last 12 years to create a metaphorical and visual "train" that depicts life in all its beauty and ugliness.

Appropriately, The Eagle Points The Way To A Different Future, leads the parade.
All Aboard

Though old and decrepit, the eagle seems to have the wisdom needed for charting a better direction. With this closeup you can see his gnarly wood face and driftwood chip feathers.
Eagle Closeup

The show includes many of Janet's wonderful teapots. I love how they have their own unique personalities. It is fascinating to see how she has imbued them all with a touch of humanity.

Several years ago Janet made a wonderful video, titled March of the Teapots, that shows just how much personality they have as they leave her studio in Barre, VT and make their way to a show in St. Johnsbury, VT. It is well worth watching.

There is also this great little piano dancer. The toy piano really makes the piece.

Here is a reincarnation piece made with a poem by Janet's mother. You can read more about the making of the piece and the full text of the poem on her blog here.

I like how these tiny nail/screw people seem to be picking apart the flesh like ants. Great found wood head.
Reincarnation (closeup)

Then there are these greedy Cowbirds (with their gold hands) that seem to be dancing around their trophies (Janet said she thinks they are surrounding slaves but like most of her work, it is open for interpretation). They also have a trail of dollars following behind them (lots of foreign currency with unknown value along with some greenbacks).
They look rather happy, dancing around in all their hubris.
Cowbirds closeup

I find this funeral piece to be more fun and funny than sad.

The musician seems joyous and I really like the guy in the cart on the lower level (titled Bring Out Your Dead) -- he makes me think of this classic "Not Dead Yet" skit from Monty Python's Holy Grail movie (amazingly, it is always just as funny whether you're watching it for the 1st or the 100th time).

I don't think this hangman/puppeteer is up to any good, he might even have some fascist tendencies with his fork hand (which I love) and all those military medals while standing above segregated/compartmentalized objects (broken glass, buttons, baby shoes, and a small collection of her wonderful nail people, among other things).

This piece is definitely in the "up to no good" category. Plenty of fighting and killing going on.


The Prophecy piece seems to be made from a series of self-important and condescending priests, each with odd heads that are nothing like the self image portraits they carry around. I don't normally think of priests or prophets as narcissistic but their lack of self-knowledge seems to indicate a high level of self-absorption.

This is the best head of the bunch, a grotesque rotting dead lizard(?) made from chicken bones and a tree root.
Prophecy (closeup)

Then, back in the fun/pleasant category, there is this surrealistic fish chariot piece.
Fish Chariot

Also in the happy category is this coupling piece. It is good to see a loving lesbian couple made the parade as well.

There is also this burlap ash covered beggar. Very realistic, complete with polio-stricken and atrophied (though surprisingly still useful) legs. I'd bet if you left him on a busy street during the day he could actually earn his keep.

And finally, there is this pair that Janet said were titled Adam and Eve for a show years ago. I don't think they have to represent the apocryphal primordial couple, they could be just any pair, or non-pair, but I like their exaggeratedly long legs and the courage they show in their armless existence.
Adam and Eve

1 comment:

  1. Love the tea pots on parade.
    What a nice exhibit.
    Thanks for posting and sending.
    Good day.