It would be artistically stifling to refer to Susannah Mira as a master woodsman, right? By definition, a woodsman is "a person who lives in the woods or who is skilled in woodcraft."
Like master craftsman, the designation reeks of male privilege, but alternative titles are no better: lumberjack, river rat, catty-man, to name a few. (Not surprisingly, woodsman, or woodsmen, is also a competitive, primarily male, sport, involving the chopping and throwing of wood. At the Lumberjack World Championships, there are a few female competitors, but even these women are separated from the men, divided into male and female teams that compete against each other; separately, the term for a female lumberjack is a "lumberjill.")
However limiting the term may be, Mira can cut with the best of them. Instead of chop, chop, chop, throw, throw, throw, the artist brings an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better spirit to the craft of woodcutting, abandoning saws or axes for lasers to cut plywood into geometrical shapes, which she then lines up into precise domino-style formations. Mira recently completed a residency at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, in which she and other resident artists got to show off a year's worth of working on self-selected mediums, in which Mira was the only "woods-woman." (The exhibition will remain on view until September 29.) "Room Divider" is her solo exhibition, another lap in a long of slicing, shaping and sculpting plywood. "Room Divider" proves Mira's flair for plywood precision.
Calling Mira a "woods-woman," however encouraging its intent, might be limiting, as well, for wood isn't the only material she works with. Mira is also a disciple to the current trend of "found object art," in which she cultivates discarded or donated foam, plastic and paper to create sculptures big, medium and small. The origins of "Room Divider" belong to this trend.
"This body of work began when I acquired 9,000 scrap plywood triangles from a laser cutting company in Northern Colorado, where I was living at the time," Mira wrote to us in an e-mail. "I've worked on variations of these sculptures at four different artist residencies in four different states -- Spiro Arts, McColl Center for Visual Art, Taliesin West, and most recently here in town at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. The process is essentially one of endless repetition, making small modular units over and over until the sculpture reaches dimensions and a scale I'm satisfied with.
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"The show consists of three main works. The largest piece extends nearly 21 feet in length, while other works are wall mounted with variable dimensions."
Mira has taken the triangles and glued them together into a circular structure, creating a sculpture that is both triangular and spherical -- a geometry professor's dream. The opposing shapes don't take away from the of the color of the plywood; each plywood triangle's tan color and sharp edge gives the sculpture a polished look, like something that a modern furniture store might sell. The 21-foot portion of the exhibition extends the length of Lawndale's Project Space, where it bisects the room, creating two rooms in one. Hence, "Room Divider."
By participating in the historically male profession of woodcutting, Mira subverts the burly, lumberjack archetype. By recycling old plywood and other found materials, she turns trash into art and, at the same time, eases our ecological footprint. By laser-cutting the plywood, she brings the once archaic process of woodcutting into the 20th century. She is a master -- no qualifier needed.
"Room Divider" will be on view through September 28. Visit the Lawndale Art Center website for more information.