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Guyon: Splendent Earth

07/18/11 7:55AM By Annie Guyon
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(HOST) Summer is a good time to visit your local museum or gallery, so commentator and art writer Annie Guyon is here with another of her occasional dispatches on Vermont's visual arts.

(GUYON) Picture this: A long, narrow subterranean room with 8-foot high, 4-inch wide strips of vivid color delicately floating vertically in mid-air, their ends lightly brushing a sandy floor and light glinting off furled edges. Limpet shells, smooth stones, fossils, beach rope and a rich palette of seaside hues glimmer everywhere - bronze, teal, amber, shimmering silvers and swaths of gold.

Surrounded by aquatic textures and tones, and the kelp-like forms suspended seemingly weightlessly as if in water, I felt as if I'd walked into a giant aquarium - or the ocean itself.
 
In fact, I was in an exhibit space at the Bennington Museum, where the luminous work of textile artist Michèle Ratté is currently on display until August 7th, in a show entitled 'Splendent Earth'.

And that gold I mentioned? It's the real deal.

Ratté, who grew up in Brattleboro before becoming a fabric designer for Madison Avenue retailers, is the co-inventor of an innovative photographic printmaking process in which gold and other precious metals are affixed to cloth.

For the pieces in this exhibit, she printed patterns of everything from lace to geometric shapes onto hand-woven Japanese silk, sewed it into imaginative forms and incorporated various natural objects.

In this sculptural context, the silk can seem at once earthbound and ethereal, fragile and indestructible, modern and antique. Whether scrunched into showy Victoriana blooms around a tiny shell, pressed flat and adorned with coin-size metallic spirals or hung like giant ribbons from unseen fishing line, Ratté's innovations are crafted with an archeologist's investigative eye and a jeweler's intuitive hand.

Some pieces also incorporate her singular method of encasing stones in silk, precisely conforming it to fit like a glove.

LITHOPTERA (full view), 2010, H 3" x W 16" x D 16", 23 K gold and paladium monoprint on shaped and pieced silks, stones, metal beads, stainless fishing line.
In a piece called "Return", grey stones are wrapped tightly in gold and orange silk as if painted but they've been carefully sewn into perfectly fitted packages. Perched along spindly strands of glass and metal beads, and adorned by clusters of tiny Cambodian bells made from spent bomb casings, the result is a stunning alchemy of past and present, organic evolution and human manipulation, fragility and mass.

In "Lithoptera", stones wrapped in blue, green and gold silk are set in a shaggy nest of metallic fishing line, like an other-worldly sea anemone.

The tallest piece in the show, "Apotrope", is a snakelike totem of deep 23-carat gold that's been embedded with palm-sized stones arranged as a slim, geologic ladder, like a tendril of silk leading the eye upward, like smoke does, and our instinct to look up when below the surface of water.

This pairing of thin, lightweight silk with dense, heavy rock infuses all of Ratté's work with a compelling tactile rhythm and grace.

Related Links

Michèle Ratté's show at the Bennington Museum Michèle Ratté's website
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