A Stitch in Time

Shows by Jane Miller and Cecilia Vicuna reveal a common thread

The word "precario," like the English word "precarious," is derived from the Latin precis, meaning "prayer," and Vicuna's poet's table is placed over cracks in the room's concrete floors, symbolizing communication between the worlds above and below. The artist wants her work to trigger contemplation; she wants it to help us find our own truth.

Accordingly, she bridges the gap between the past and present. Vicuna sees modern life as disrupting humans' direct relationship with the world around us. For her, emanations of spirit, visionary powers and mythical archetypes don't fit with mechanization; we've estranged ourselves from the earth. poet's table correlates poverty of materials and purity of spirit.

Each piece can be mined for layers of formal and thematic content. The work is political in the most poetic way: It critiques the general culture through the expression of a personal vision. In Houston, a Central American butterfly is caught in an industrial web. For Poet's Blood, an ink cartridge is inserted in a Pre-Colombian piece of bone. Alongside are two thorns from Chile and a grid of industrial debris interwoven with a chunk of coral reef. Guacamayo electrica juxtaposes an iridescent blue feather with electrical trash from the streets of New York.

Vicuna uses wool, thread and knots to explore connections between weaving and language. "In the Andes," she says, "to weave is to give light. Textiles were frequently offerings in Pre-Colombian cultures. Everything is falling apart because of lack of connections. Weaving is the connection that is missing, the connection between people and themselves, people and nature. Weaving and crossing are healing processes."

The DiverseWorks show opens with a video in which women are rhythmically pulling strings of yarn. Taken together, the video and poet's table convey a deeply feminine perspective. Vicuna's language goes beyond the mind/body dichotomy to the realm of feeling. It touches our most primal chords.

Her installation in the main gallery, cloud-net, places logic and intuition on equal footing. She loops, twists and knots ten pounds of unspun wool over the rafters. Eight separate streams of wool create a weblike structure that conforms to the room's arches. As a physical object, cloud-net is impressive and mysterious; it begs to be touched. Vicuna explains that unspun wool contains the energy of the unformed, and cloud-net does seem primal and atavistic, an umbilical cord attached to the womb, a cradle of sorts, slung close to the ground but free to move. (The work seems especially appropriate to its site: DiverseWorks's building was once a cotton warehouse.)

The streams of wool create complex shadows on the gallery walls, and the sprawling expanse of lines puts viewers in mind of the oldest representations of labor: that of women spinning. The piece relates to the ancient, repetitive, Penelopean rhythms of seeding, gathering and weaving, as well as to modern domestic routines. Calming and meditative, the looping structure seems to take root and grow. Perhaps in line with our desires, or perhaps at odds with our wills, Vicuna aims to draw us outside of ourselves and toward the power of myth, ritual, dream and enchantment.

Jane Miller's "Time Not Wasted" is on view through April 18 at Rice Gallery, Sewell Hall, 6100 Main, (713)527-6069. Gallery director Kim Davenport will give a talk, "Hey, you never know," on Thursday, April 15, at noon.

Cecilia Vicuna's work is on view through April 24 at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, (713)223-8346.

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