Easthampton art exhibit experiments with sense of touch

Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2015

An art show can be more than just visually engaging. Sometimes it can be heard, handled, touched, read — and even hugged.

That’s the case with “Piecework,” a collaborative, multi-media exhibit that opens Tuesday at the Mills Arts Project at Eastworks in Easthampton. The show is produced by Fugitive Arts, a project that promotes experimental art and emerging artists, run by Northampton resident, Esther S. White.

White, 29, the curator of “Piecework,” will display printed textile collages and quilts, while Greenfield artist Cathe Janke will show what she calls a “dreamworld” of mixed-media paintings and soft sculptures. During the month, there will be contributions and performances by other local artists as well.

Both White and Janke utilize found objects, reinterpreting them for use in their artwork. Over the course of the month the two will continue to produce pieces in the gallery space.

“It’s an exhibition, but also a residency,” White said.

As they are completed, those new pieces will be added to the installation, making for a changing and growing display.

“I’ll treat it like a pet that I have to water and feed every day,” Janke said.

The name, “Piecework,” refers to a method of quilting, White said.

“You often start with different kinds of fabric. Those pieces are then cut up and re-formed into something new,” she said. “In that way the artist’s voice comes through. It’s about reuse.”

In keeping with that theme, White reuses old fabrics, sometimes dyeing them or adding silk screen prints. At times, she also incorporates objects. For “Bed Grief,” for example, she stitched one of her old, gray nightgowns onto a quilt, which creates the impression that the gown has been thrown onto a bed.

One of the hallmarks of her work, White says, is its tactile nature; it’s meant to be felt.

“Fabric is made to be touched,” White said. “I encourage people to touch my quilts.”

To that end, she plans to display her work within easy, unprotected reach of gallery visitors.

On the same wavelength

White invited Janke to collaborate with her on “Piecework” after visiting the Leverett artist’s studio last year, where she discovered that their artistic sensibilities are simpatico.

“She approaches artwork in an exciting way,” White said. “It can be touched, people can engage with it.”

At the Easthampton exhibit, Janke’s work includes colorful people-sized pillows, the height of which encourages hugging, she says. She will also contribute “Continuous Story,” a sequence of mixed-media paintings that have a shared narrative and connect at their edges when placed side by side.

“I feel lucky that she picked me to do a show together,” Janke said about White. “It’s pretty amazing and I think she’s a very talented artist.”

White also sought Janke’s input on the installation of the exhibit, which she says is unique.

“A lot of Fugitive is about transforming the space. It’s pretty different from the white cube with paintings hung in a straight line along a wall,” White said. “Cathe has done installations with artwork on the floor.”

The opening of “Piecework” corresponds with this month’s Art Walk Easthampton, whose theme for May is kids. In keeping with that, White and Janke installed the artwork in a way that optimizes possibilities for children to interact with the pieces.

“Artwork 62 inches off the ground isn’t good for kids,” White said. “This exhibition is going to be very colorful.”


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