Kristin Fleischmann: Absences and Obsessions at Craft Alliance Grand Center

I recommend going alone to the show at the new Craft Alliance on Grand, where recent Washington University in St. Louis MFA graduate Kristin Fleischmann’s work reflects upon what it means to feel united with something and to feel apart. An array of more than eighty cloth tubes dominate the space in Longing. The elongated sacks sit slumped on the floor, filled part of the way with plaster. It is difficult not to project human thoughts and characteristics onto these objects. They appear herd-like, all basically the same but with different heights and postures. The tubes’ arrangements start to imply different personalities and social behaviors. In one grouping, two smaller tubes touch at the head while a taller tube stands slightly apart, too far away to share in the embrace. Fleishmann’s work simultaneously invites these kinds of projections and flouts them by keeping the forms strictly metaphorical, rather than illusionistic. The “skins” are merely canvas; the innards, plaster. Fleischmann’s simple materials and forms keep the viewer’s attention on the constructed nature of the metaphor, making it difficult to forget that the creatures are not, in fact, alive.

The distance established by Fleischmann’s materials facilitates formal comparisons between the different pieces in the show. In the video I Breathe, I Walk, one hand is covered in translucent white cloth as the other carefully stitches around each finger to encase it. The tubes mimic the shape and look of the fingers in the video behind them. In comparison to the conjoined fingers, however, the tubes veer between individuals in a tribe and limbs on one body.

Next to the video, in A Silkworm of One’s Own, strings hang in a large semicircle vaguely reminiscent of a wig, the bottom of which looks as though it has been dipped in gray mud. The strings seem to be part of one entity, but, looking up, you see they hang from separated wooden rods. Like with the tubes, relationships among the strings imply a narrative, with dramatic tangles suggestive of some kind of conflict. The mud-dipped tips turn out to be cemented on closer inspection. Like the tubes that pointedly cannot live, the hardening of the loops and tangles into concrete breaks a suspension of disbelief. Sometimes the hardened string stops pretending to be soft, loses its organic flow and becomes violent. Fleischmann highlights the capacity of the cement to hold it, in right angles and against gravity.

The artist’s statement speaks about obsession and longing for something unknown. That longing seems to grow out of where the singular body ends and the group begins. The work speaks quietly, mostly communicating through the formal connections between the different pieces in the room. The artist’s strength is in her sensitivity to materials— a careful straddling of the line between precise metaphor and raw material.

Kristin Fleishmann: Absences and Obsessions is on view at Craft Alliance Grand Center, in St. Louis, MO through June 5th, 2011.
Images courtesy of the artist.

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