|| Two-artist exhibit makes note of
relationship between art, nature
By Kurt Shaw, Tribune-Review Art Critic
Sunday, April 6, 2003
The installation 'Melody,'
featuring recent work by Keiko Miyamori,
is on display at the Society for Contemporary Craft.
I think I shall never see,
A poem lovely as a tree.
So begins the well-known poem "Trees," by American
poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918).
Although Kilmer died an early death while in action in France
during World War I, he no doubt would have found kindred spirits
in the two artists whose work is on display at the Society
for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District Keiko
Miyamori and Dorothy Gill Barnes for their works are
poetry made with trees.
That might sound like a bit of a stretch, but for Japanese
artist Miyamori, who lives in Philadelphia, the relationship
between her work and poetry can be quite literal. Especially
in her latest installation piece, "Melody," which
dominates half of the main exhibition space that she shares
with Barnes, of Worthington, Ohio.
Comprised of a typewriter and a piano surrounded by a series
of large-scale charcoal rubbings of trees that Miyamori made
on Japanese washi paper, the piece originally was conceived
to involve a pianist and poet in live performance. Both would
play or work in tandem, opposite each other, on the piano
and typewriter respectively.
Here, in this space, however, it is up to the visitor to make
that connection by typing or playing the piano, Miyamori says,
so that they can experience first hand the power of nature
to transform these objects into works of art.
"If people can imagine something good in this, in playing,
then we can change the world even a little if we can imagine
something nice," Miyamori says.
The piano and typewriter have been covered with the tree rubbings
on washi paper, which Miyamori has glued tightly to their
surfaces with wheat paste. The entire surface of both have
been covered except for the piano's keys and a few keys on
the typewriter the ones necessary to spell out the
Miyamori says she did this to emphasize the idea that nature
stimulates energy. A concept, she says, that aligns itself
with Eastern philosophy.
"Eastern culture is very close with nature," Miyamori
says. "I'm hoping that with this installation human creativity
and wisdom will merge to create something positive."
Behind Miyamori's installation, visitors will find several
smaller objects similarly covered in the charcoal-rubbed paper
such as a mug, baby bottle, picture frames and pencils
all of which play on our human presence in the natural world.
But perhaps nothing says that more than the giant, gnarly-rooted
tree stump that Miyamori also has installed in the space.
The major part of a large-scale installation she completed
last summer at Philadelphia's Project Room, Miyamori had the
stump removed from a demolition site of a housing project
near that gallery and spent the entire summer cleaning out
the fragments of brick, metal and glass that were embedded
between the roots.
"I thought of the bricks that I pulled from the roots
as the people who where kicked out from (the housing project),"
Miyamori says. "They are also very tough. We don't worry
about them. They can live very strongly."
The remainder of the gallery is filled with the work of Barnes
in what constitutes a separate exhibition entitled "Wood
A veteran artist who has plied the craft of basket making
for nearly 30 years, Barnes creates unique sculptures and
vessel forms from the bark, branches and roots of various
Many of the 30 or so pieces on display are vessels, or variations
on basket-like containers. Some are rather large, like "Elm
Bark Box with Handle," which is as large as a mature
tree trunk. Others are smaller, as in "Dark and Light
Bark Group," which is a grouping of six containers, each
roughly the size of a handbag, that have been made from the
bark of white pine and black walnut trees.
Most of the pieces, however, exist purely as sculptures, such
as "Willow with Hickory Lacing" or "Found Underground,"
which incorporates basket weaving into the bark of a Mulberry
Although pieces such as the latter one were created by trimming
back the wood of a chosen cutting to let the bark extend enough
to be braided, some of the pieces are planned way in advance,
with Barnes cutting into live trees and waiting several months
to several years for the natural healing process to yield
results that she can work with.
Those pieces, which she calls "dendroglyphs," where
inspired by the many scars created in tree bark by animals
and insects that mark them with horns, claws or teeth. To
emphasize the connection, a large display case holding several
examples of these natural occurrences has been included in
the exhibition right alongside Barnes' "dendroglyph"
As with all of her pieces, Barnes says that whatever the means
of their creation, "I try to think of a way of making
a form that presents that material well then I try to make
up the particular process."
Even though her work is mainly about process, overall it still
places the inherent beauty of trees at the forefront.
There is something profound in this. Something that already
has been best summed up in the final stanza of Kilmer's poem:
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.