For the past few years, I’ve driven past the Huntington Beach Art Center on my way to dinner or activities on Main Street. It’s an unassuming tan brick building shaped like a box without much fan-fare aside from some red painted steel beams that create a tower in the entry. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized it was an art center. I only notice it because they had a large banner announcing their Women Surfers exhibit, which sounded like a cool show to check out.
Today, there is a new banner dedicated to Looming Spaces. Talk about an ominous name. I did a double take and realized the double meaning referencing the woven art, created on a loom. This kind of art hits home for me.
Growing up, my mom would spin a variety of wool types such as Angora, Camel, Alpaca, and Sheep. We owned Angora rabbits as pets so that she would never run out of fur to spin. She was constantly looking for new fibers to create with. Every so often, we would get a large package delivered to the house of raw, unbrushed, uncleaned animal hair. I think she enjoyed the challenge and took pride in giving gifts that she had a hand in every step of the process to make.
She was so talented at it, that she won first place in spinning contests at the Orange County Fair for three years running when I was in high school. Once she had her balls of yarn, she would either crochet or weave it on her loom. She made a beautiful tapestry for our living room wall along with a whole bunch of blankets and baby booties, which she would give to new mothers at our church. It was her time to create and have her own space to just be. I still have her spinning wheel that I keep at my grandmother’s house.
According to the art center’s pamphlet on the exhibit, “Looming Spaces is the third exhibition in a series celebrating women in the arts. It explores weaving through the vision of four contemporary fiber artists whose artwork addresses contemporary, cultural and environmental issues.” The featured artists include: Ashley Black, Dawn Ertl, Annette Heully, and Consuelo Jimenez Underwood.
Painted on the wall leading into the exhibit, is an explanation of fiber art as “fine art where the materials consist of natural or synthetic fibers and other components…[Due to] underrepresentation of women in the arts, [the art center has] chosen to explore the distinction between fine art and craft to celebrate women in fiber art who have broken this traditional craft form by creating contemporary interpretations with the use of this medium.”
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood chose to address the U.S. Mexico Border as an environmental issue rather than political one. Her installment highlights the native plants that live on both sides of the wall, yet who’s growth will be stifled if not eradicated due to a wall. The art references ten cities and towns along the border where the existing wall has been constructed.
Underwood mentions, in the corresponding explanation of her work, that New Mexico had no corresponding towns, California and Texas had three, and Arizona had the most at four. She also states: “The border between the United States and Mexico is depicted as a horrific scar that slashes across the world…a stark depiction of the future. When border-phobia prevails, all the flowers leave the mundane existence and hover across the land as Flower Spirit.”
Dawn Ertl took a different approach to The Warmth of Your Embrace by portraying it through the lens of extracted weather data while addressing the relationship we as people have with each other and how that affects the natural environment. She uses a custom computer to collect weather data only when she decides to collect it. Using wind direction, temperature, dew point and humidity, Ertl creates a loom code for the hand and one for the loom. She then chooses not to fix anything correctly to highlight natural disruptions. The resulting work shows an ever-changing process relative to the whole environment so that the viewer can see the “bigger picture,” which changes depending on your perspective.
With One Nation Under God, Ertl utilizes musical notation from Wait by M83 to create the loom code. The song was chosen to express the “liminal space between hope and doom, which aligns with [her] feelings on environmental issues — specifically when religious ideology is used to shape government policy.” The materials she used include hand-dyed wools and collected single-use plastics, such as plastic bags. She did this to represent material convenience that comes at the expense of collective welfare.
Additional art installations were equally dramatic in their displays, yet did not have the detailed background information provided on the meanings behind the work.
Photography of Annette Huelly’s installation Body + Landscape graces the marketing collateral for Looming Spaces.
Overall, it was an informative and inspiring experience to see these women’s unique, artistic interpretations of addressing issues they are passionate about. Each is beautiful in its own way. Whether you agree with the political opinions expressed or not, we live in an amazing country where this freedom can be loomed in whichever way the artist sees fit.