HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — The power of expectation is never so evident as it is in the moment it’s thwarted. In Tensions, an exhibit of new work by fiber artist Lynn Bennett-Carpenter at 9338 Campau, objects that initially appear rigid, are in fact elastic, forcing us to reconcile our perceptions with reality.
In the main gallery, Bennett-Carpenter has created a forest of floor-to-ceiling pieces, gathered loosely into three groupings of primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). An arrangement that seems sparse from the fringes becomes surprisingly dense when within its midst. Though the trunks of these “trees” are simply formed by single elastic threads, the mind elaborates on this skeletal sketch of strings, creating the feel of a wooded area. Similarly, the paper forms that hover over the yellow and blue “Tensions” groupings seem at first to be innocuous cutouts, like floral motifs common to wallpaper and drapery fabrics, but the longer one lingers in their environment, the more evocative these flat, colorful shapes become. Like a Kara Walker cutout, the eye begins to discover disturbing interpretations of initially benign forms. Each grouping is tethered to the floor by a different mechanism: “Tensions (red)” emerges from porcelain bases that evoke abstracted tree stumps; “Tensions (blue)” is anchored by blue fabric enclosures roughly the dimensions of a dress shoe bag; and “Tensions (yellow)” sprouts from fuzzy yellow bases that seem like halves of oversized, off-brand tennis balls. The perceived weight of these bases anchors the tense, elastic forms; when Bennett-Carpenter, whose reflexive physical interaction with her work is the hallmark of a fiber artist, reveals their elastic ability to be pulled askance and spring back into place, it is frankly unsettling.