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Hand Workshop's "Comforts of Home" explores the many notions of "home."

Look Homeward, Artist


The Hand Workshop's curator, Ashley Kistler, has assembled a finely wrought exhibition on the theme of home just as many of us prepare to head off in that direction for the holidays. Her title, "The Comforts of Home," proposes to mediate on behalf of the romantic notions of that notorious and necessary location of our psyche. But as "Open House," the Willie Cole piece on the exhibition's invitation hints, the subject and its exploration is at times an ironic one. The Cole work serves well as a circumspective metaphor for the spirit and concept of the show.

The repeated steam-iron shapes in "Open House," with their varied steam ports, have been sandblasted onto thick panes of plate glass. An elegant, subtle reference to African shields, as well as Cole's childhood, the irons' simultaneously Gothic contours include references to Western ideals designed into the spiritually disposed entrances and windows to a sanctuary. Even though they are depicted in icy blue glass, Cole's irons summon the warm, comfortable smell of freshly ironed garments and sheets. Through this association, the viewer is returned to a time when someone else tended to his or her well being. Coincidentally, the lingering imprint of the iron can spell trouble, for it infers that something has just been scorched, possibly irrevocably. It is an exceptional work of art.

Windows, lit and unlit, actual and referenced, show up throughout "The Comforts of Home." They serve to reiterate that the acquisition of comfort, if not the physical home itself, is somewhat elusive — never mind what number of objects might be accumulated to dispel that concern. Margaret Stratton's "Inventory of My Mother's House" depicts in windowpane fashion an account of isolated personal items that define her mother's identity. Unstated but dynamic in the documentation is Stratton's selection process which introduces her own memories and meaning onto the vintage objects and identifies those she has chosen as more emotionally photogenic than those she omitted. They have become an intellectual dowry, a game of solitaire and a Tarot reading interchangeably. Todd Hido and Peter Garfield illuminate windows to breathe the ghost of life into their relinquished houses, and Gregory Crewdson proposes suburban refuge from the superabundant inconvenience of nature in tightly sealed, lace-defended fenestrations.

The "upward" mobility of our generation has impressed itself in the modern definition of home, both suburban and urban. The controlled, self-amused order of Neil Winokur's photographic still-lifes, as acutely tended to as hospital-corners, contrast with Tracy Baran's photodocumentary exposé of utter household disorder. In both works, cats offer a further touch of domestic humor.

Meanwhile, the home at its most basic level of shelter and protection is given to us as a reminder by Beverly Buchanan in her frail constructions and documentary photographs of hand-built shacks in the deep South. In these works, the home is offered as a bony exoskeleton pieced and fed by its marrow of dwellers.

"The Comforts of Home" is not a cozy show, but it is a fine one: piercing, poignant, funny and softly disquieting, Susie Brandt's fragile piece-worked coverlet, "Darned Blanket," which tentatively rests on the floating bed in the front gallery, will remind the viewer that their own childhood room, a place they will likely be welcomed should it still exist, has been made into a guest room in their

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