Wednesday, January 06, 2016


Diedrick Brackens - Untitled 2015 hand woven fabric; cotton dyed with tea and 

commerical dyes, and nylon yarns 88"x82" repost of my article.

Myth can be a powerful delivery system for truth, ask Diedrick Brackens. His textiles now at Conduit Gallery were inspired by a story about quilts. During the our nation’s pre-civil war era, slaves and underground railroad participators would embed messages in their quilts, blankets, and other textiles to help escaped slaves navigate their way north. Though this story sounds plausible, Bracken couldn’t find a scrap of evidence to back up this story he had heard. Yet the story inspired his own code making in his art. I think it is hard to pin down an oral tradition society that was trying to keep their activities secret from their oppressors. Clearly messages were passed in songs and other activities. Slave made textiles, most were not literate, but yet aware of symbolic language. Unfortunately, gathering first account evidence is impossible now, so it is up to the artists, novelists, and poets to make sense of this myth and even play with creating new meanings.

Codes and messages in textiles have had a long and rich history. Ships have used flags to communicate with other ships. Clothes have indicated social status or some kind of membership to a nation or family. Bracken embeds stories of love and tension is his weaving. Personal messages, rather than overarching goals are Bracken’s aim in each work. Bright and muted colors clash and seem to point out the obvious in that there is a message, but it is not readable. I suppose I could try translate Bracken’s work into binary code and then try extrapolate words. After all, weavers originated a binary system, but I doubt that I would come up with a one to one translation. I guess I need to look at the work and just feel the information flow into my senses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Robert Barsamian has a strong show of paintings in the front room. When I saw Barsamian’s last show, I was completely taken in by his imagery. This show continued his exploration into symbolic collage style which normally is a big turn off for me, but with Barsamian the political and social content just seems to work. It packages his painting well, because I am drawn in for a closer look. My Facebook has been recently blowing up over big game hunting, and on NPR I frequently hear about wars in Africa. Barsamian speaks to these two subjects by combining photographic references and patterns and then punching me with his combined images. Not an ugly punch, but rather the kind that jolts me a little out of my complacency.

As sometime happens, I was a little baffled by the project room. Anthony Sonnenberg was certainly entertaining talking about the work. I will have to come back and give it a second look. Conduit Gallery’s three shows end October 10th.

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