Forest, Farm, Field, the current exhibit at Chelsea’s River Gallery, presents the natural world as we would like it to be: shimmery green and mild, a generous offering of benign plants, pretty wildflowers, and ripe vegetables. The pink umbel of a six-foot-tall textile milkweed (genus Asclepius, an herbaceous perennial found in fields and meadows and named by Linnaeus after the Greek god of healing, for the plant’s medicinal uses) shivers in a breeze. Never mind that it’s the air-conditioning.
The exhibit juxtaposes the nature-inspired works of two U-M art MFA graduates, Ashley Lieber, ’10, and Susan Moran, ’83. Moran has contributed many large, colorful textiles, including the above Milkweed I. The soft beauty of her textiles comes from her combination of airy fabrics—silk, linen, and cotton—and dappled dye effects. Moran specializes in the art of shibori, a traditional Japanese dye technique (known lamely to many of us as “tie-dye”) that, according to Moran, “results in richly evocative surfaces that seem akin to certain natural phenomena.” The result in Milkweed I is the illusion of light and shade on a leaf, or differences in chlorophyll. Moran is perceptive of both nature’s inclination and our attraction toward the wonders of variation.
Lieber also explicitly recognizes the emotional benefits of a rich landscape in her Moss for Meditation Series. Each collage of preserved mosses and lichens resembles a few square feet of the Pacific Northwest’s plushest forest floor, framed and hanging on a gallery wall. These artworks, says Lieber, “can be utilized as actual sites for mental and physical restoration,” through care (regular mistings by the owner) and interactions with them. In addition to their enchanting visual appeal, they give off a whiff of sweet earthiness, but their most alluring quality is their springy-looking texture and density. As I encountered these pieces, the resultant frame-of-mind wasn’t so much calm and meditative as it was pleasantly frustrated—these are very, very tempting to touch (I resisted!).
Now to move on to the third realm
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