From November 21 through December 11, the Chazan Gallery in Providence presents “Of Rock and Air,” a two-person show of artwork by Mary Anne Friel and Leslie Hirst.
These artists explore intense process-laden methods of making. Recently, while visiting their respective studios in Pawtucket, each explained their current aesthetics and what they will present at the Chazan Gallery. It was informative to see both artists at the stage of transition from labor-intensive, fabric-oriented processes to making decisions about the technical aspects of presentation for the Chazan space.
Hirst is a full professor of Experimental and Foundation Studies at Rhode Island School of Design, and Friel is an associate professor in Textiles at the same institution. Looking at their upcoming exhibit in overview, one sees an obvious correspondence between their sensibilities.
Friel’s artwork for the show was created at volcanic sites in California and Hawaii. Her process explorations exploit experiential possibilities of conductivity using silver/carbon-coated fabric exposed to fumes from the volcanoes. The artist stretches her body over a crater holding the highly conductive fabric up to a spray of hot steam, which is emitted from the earth’s crust, or dips her material into molten and bubbling pools of clay. To get close to a volcano, Friel must first get government permission. This involves references or recommendations from the scientific community. She approaches what she does as fine art; however, she speaks regularly with volcanologists and seismologists as she pursues this area of interest.
In conversation prior to the show, Friel mentioned that she feels a connection to John Cage’s pioneering work with the indeterminacy of chance. The pieces in this show relate to Dove Bradshaw’s work. The lineage of “Earthworks” is another current evident in Friel’s new work. The Chazan Gallery exhibition will include an artwork of hers inspired by seismic readings taken at timed intervals with Friel translating that energy into a kind of luminosity of mark informed by process.
An aspect of the artist’s ethos is to be the director of her encounters with nature. During our studio visit, Friel explained that she was fascinated by earth’s core and liked to connect with deep earth and longevity of time by experiencing the volcanic action. She considers this part of her career as a collaboration between herself and the volcanoes. At times, Friel wears a mask so not to be overwhelmed by vapors while she focuses on experiencing the earth “on a very primordial level of deep time.” As anyone that has ever been near one can attest, volcanoes reek from the smell of sulfuric gas.
Last year, Leslie Hirst was the chief critic of Rhode Island School of Design’s Rome Program and while there, she decided to make cyanotypes to articulate her considerations about the objectness of sky and to conceptually explore atmosphere as a thing. The pairing of Friel and Hirst for the Chazan exhibition was their idea. They liked the combination of Friel’s earthy interests with Hirst’s sky sensibility. They had discussed the verticality of movement associated with going down deep into the earth or looking up to the sky and then exploring horizontal movement of the eye that interfaces between inside and outside experience.