Wolves are the central theme in Rachel Schwind Gardner's Rewilding exhibit, where the artist puts forth the argument that balance can be restored to ecosystems if we allow the reintroduction of non-human animals to their natural lands. Her life-size papier-mâché wolves take center stage in an artfully arranged tree limb and moss arbor courtesy of Max B. Harrison, who co-owns Gallery M Squared along with Michael P. Kubis. The wolves climb stairs, howl at the moon, play with bones, lie on their backs or curl up to sleep, all under the watchful eyes of the wolf family trilogy painting SOULcry.
In addition to the life-size and medium-size wolf sculptures, Gardner's exhibit includes wolf pups, mixed-media collages on panel or canvas, watercolor with ink, and a very interesting primitive and energetic series painted with sharpened sticks. These stick paintings capture day-to-day events such as howling at the moon (Cavil in Moonlight), submission (Render Loyalty), tearing at flesh (EAT), and wolf pups following the matriarch (Love the Children). Ravens, which exist in symbiosis with wolves, frequently appear in the paintings, either by signaling about available prey or waiting their turn at the carcass. The composition of Rove in Between is refreshing, with wolves moving in and out of the frame, allowing the viewer to use his or her own imagination to complete the picture.
The mixed-media collages that focus on the hunt are rustic and riveting, though many of the creatures are wounded and damaged. Gardner has absorbed the pain of someone very dear to her and channeled those feelings into her work. An eye is stitched closed here (Narrow Escape) or missing there (Walk the Line, Bob the Cat and Breaking Free). Sometimes the wounds include bloody gashes, as in Safe Place and Hoo Are You. The pieces incorporate strips of newspaper, and while sometimes the words don't mean anything, there are occasional sprinklings of clues, e.g., "join BARC in supporting their low cost spay-neuter...."
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The wolf sculptures were arranged throughout the gallery in various poses, one even lifting his leg on an electrical outlet. While the gallery space is about as good as it can get to display pieces of this nature (the Historic Heights Theater), there is something very magical that happens when the wolf pack is taken outside. Gardner and her friend, Sheila Swift Kahé, have produced a short video titled Rewilding: Volume I, The Heights. They took the sculptures out to unremarkable areas in the Heights neighborhood and arranged them near rocks, under trees and in parking lots, and discovered that the wolves took on new and different characteristics with each placement. From just the small sampling that was shown on opening night, the resulting film with little girls climbing on rocks as wolves stand guard is quite compelling. The filmmaking team promises to begin work on Volume II very soon.
Rewilding continues through May 24 at Gallery M Squared, 339 West 19th, open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., 713-861-6070, gallerymsquared.com.