Respect for materials. Close attention to finishes and surfaces. Consummate craftsmanship, with a spritzer of whimsy. If any work can epitomize the artistry on display in Fiber Dimensions' sixth show in San Francisco's Presidio, it might be the two metal-and-fiber masks that Cynthia Jensen is showing there.
If you've been interested in assemblage for awhile, you've probably run across a humanoid piece or two made from kitchen utensils. For someone new to working with found objects, it can be tempting to put some eyes on a colander or a cheese grater, and go from there – it's sure to raise a smile. But I doubt you've bumped into anything that would scare the bejesus out of you if you woke up and found it on your bedside table.
Jensen has come as close as I want to get to a couple of rusty artifacts exhumed from some rotting jungle in New Guinea. The hair on these masks is composed of shreds of an ancient ochre fishing net, still sporting a random collection of weights: greenish lead balls, rusty nuts and bolts, corroded spark plugs. It's neatly plaited on top of the head, relaxing a bit as the tresses brush the cadaverous faces. Some long-dead tribal mother cared about this hair long ago, and the juju's still there. Irregular sooty patches of skin cling to the dull-grey mesh masks, with facial features provided by a few well-placed whisks, drains, graters, strainers and other ephemera. They're masks, and they can be worn – but they're our masks, and there's nothing funny about them.
Jensen's “Fallen Empire #1 and #2” are by no means the only metal pieces in the show. By now this organization has stretched the word “fiber” so far that it's essentially irrelevant except as an indicator of where the group came from – and where much of its members' inspiration and expertise lie.
Jensen's attention to detail and mastery of materials (but not necessarily her color palette) are echoed in many of the pieces in this show, including – just to name a few – Susan Doyle's patiently constructed crosses, Alex Friedman's striking wall hangings, and Melissa Woodburn's ceramic pods with their sewn-on pine-needle caps.
Materials in the show ranged from the polished metal rods in Roy Forest's cold, spare basket-like forms to the coconut pods, banana-tree leaves and other exotics which Phyllis Thelen uses to construct her native boats. There's a bed, yes, and even a quilt, although they don't occupy the same space. But this reviewer ultimately returned to pieces like Sheila Tuffanelli's hollow mesh torsos, at once vulnerable and challenging, bristling with everything from silver rope to shotgun shells. And Lucia Matzger's striking ceremonial robes constructed from coffee filters. And those masks. Offbeat stuff, ranging toward the dusky tones – things that Kipling might have run into “somewhere east of Suez, where the best is like the worst.”
Some of the best is right here in the City. It'll be up through January 12th.
Fiber Dimensions: Intersections 6
Herbst International Exhibition Hall
Presidio of San Francisco, 385 Moraga Avenue
Open daily, 11-5; Thursdays, 11-7
Dec 24 and Dec 31, 11-3
Closed Christmas and New Year's Day
Information: (415) 505-4823