The two artists brought together in this show, Michelle Grabner and Sabrina Gschwandtner, explore handcraft techniques as essential foundations of their artistic practice—Michelle in her paintings and sculptures, and Sabrina in her work as a media artist in film, photography and video. Both consider the activities of craft-- its communal social structure and labor-- crucial visually, politically, and theoretically as both process and content. The rich history of women’s work in craft drew both artists to adopting it into their visual art. Though their means are distinct, Grabner’s monochromatic paintings and Gschwandtner’s film quilts, sewn and woven postcards, hand-colored photographs and video build on the handwork and repetitive structure of weaving, threading and collage to build rhythmic patterns of similarity and difference throughout. In Grabner’s new paintings, small hand gestures and controlled touch determine the painterly outcome of her subtle monochromatic canvases. In her film quilts, Gschwandtner sews thirty-five-millimeter film strips of a dancer performing the Loie Fuller Serpentine Dance into mesmerizing compositions. Both artists have sustained a long exploration of these craft techniques, which they developed into distinctive voices in their respective art work.
In describing the context for her recent paintings, Grabner invokes the tale of Penelope waiting for Odysseus’ return. She marks time passing while weaving at her loom, only to
unravel the day’s work each night. So Grabner picks apart the warp or weft of a selected fabric for the paintings, which are based on the de-weaving of a primary textile-- either soft thermal hospital blankets or burlap. When overlaid on the prepared linen surface, these deconstructed textiles establish a guided imprint for the painter’s work. She paints in the negative spaces, building up layers into idiosyncratic surfaces that run between “braille paintings” to brushy skeins of translucent paint.
A dominant interest in Grabner’s career as an abstract artist has been the creating and dismantling of gingham fabric patterns-- in oil paintings, woven paper floor works, brass and iron sculptures and prints. Here, she eschews the bold graphics of the earlier work in favor of the challenge of a monochromatic series. Operating within the stricture of a shallow depth of field amplifies small gestures and the meditative spirit of its making. By moving away from bold graphics, the artist forces attention upon the specificities of the surface, the hand and the quiet presence of women’s making, so central to her artistic identity.
Sabrina Gschwandtner presents a collection of work from her Cinema Sanctuary Series, in which she has reprinted film footage from under-recognized female filmmakers, sewing film strips from archival footage into elaborate quilts, videos and photographic works. For Gschwandtner, historical material culture is her expansive medium, retelling stories of female pioneers on both sides of the camera. Since 2009, the artist has been sewing film strips, interpreting historical quilt patterns in celluloid and thread. “By tying together my handwork with the film work of the women of early cinema, I mend a rupture in film history.”
The current installation expands upon her film quilt works by focusing on a single cinema piece, Loie Fuller’s Serpentine Dance as filmed by Alice Guy-Blaché and performed by Mrs. Bob Walter in 1897. This captures a solo performance in film stills, akin to the stop motion photographic sequences of figures in motion popularized by Eadweard Muybridge in the 1880s. Gschwandtner’s female subjects were pioneers in time-based media, including film, dance and performance. Fuller invented her dance in a billowing white gown, upon which she projected gel-colored lights to create undulating rainbow atmospheric effects. In addition to an original film quilt, the presentation includes hand-colored gelatin silver photographic prints, a hand-painted video piece using the early film, and a collection of hand sewn postcards from the artist to Abattoir mailed over the last eight months.
Sabrina Gschwandtner received her BA from Brown University and her MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College. Her work has been included in numerous worldwide museum exhibitions including most recently at the Toledo Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. In 2020 she installed a three-channel video commission work at the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA). She was the founder of the influential magazine KnitKnit. She is represented by Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Los Angeles, where she will show later this year. She resides in Los Angeles.
Michelle Grabner is the Crown Professor of Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. Curator, critic and teacher, Grabner also runs experimental non-profit galleries the Suburban and the Poor Farm with artist Brad Killim. In 2014, she was a curator of the Whitney Biennial, and in 2018 the Artistic Director for the first FRONT International triennial in Cleveland. This summer she is co-curator of Sculpture Milwaukee. A mid-career survey, I Work From Home, appeared at moCa Cleveland in 2014. She has exhibited extensively worldwide and is represented by James Cohan Gallery, New York. She resides in Milwaukee.