As the name suggests, “Paper Fortress” at Pterodactyl is a bastion for the many faces and uses of wood pulp in art and in print. The show runs until April 22 as part of FiberPhiladelphia 2012 — Philadelphia’s regional fiber arts festival — and there will be a reception at the gallery on March 31 from 6 to 9 p.m. Exhibiting artists include: Carol Cole, Jenna Efrein, Alexis Granwell, Karen Hardy, Daniel Hoffman, Lisa Murch, Ellen Owens, Erin Tohill Robin, Mary Tasillo and Bonnie Kaye Whitfield.
Utilizing paper in barely recognizable ways is sculptor Cole. Her works are primarily objects mounted as reliefs on the wall, although one globe-like piece dangles from the ceiling. On the whole, Cole’s sculptures exude an archaic feel as if they had just been dug up in some archaeological excavation. They reside in the middle ground between artifacts of industry and religion. Her piece “Sacred” makes no reservations about its cross-like shape and reference to religious iconography. Like its neighbor “Celestial Mechanics,” it also includes rusted metal parts that give it strong industrial overtones. The paper is molded in ways which utterly disguise it, and the textures of the mottled fiber often match those of the rust.
In a more traditional, two-dimensional use of the medium, Tasillo provides free copies of a small, handmade book printed in collaboration with Michelle Wilson of Rocinante Press. The little publication is part of a book bombing project in which the printed material is left in area parks for visitors to find. This particular book is entitled “Horizontalidad,” the Argentinean term for horizontalness, which describes the non-hierarchal organization found most recently in the Occupy movement. The name is based on Tasillo’s experience with a family in Argentina and the revelations it provided for her alongside experiences with the economic collapse and the rise of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Philly. It’s a quick read and quite enlightening.
Whitfield uses flat paper, as well, but she displays it in an installation form. “In and Out (Timesheets)” is an ongoing project, which documents the timesheets used to clock in and out at the artist’s multiple jobs. The twisted, hanging numbers are somewhat challenging. They remind us of work — and not necessarily the kind we enjoy. From the perspective of an artist with day jobs, the daily grind is important, if sometimes tedious. The march of numbers is telling but also loses meaning in its repetitive digits.
The work of Murch is also quite powerful. Murch’s use of paper is more obvious than that of Cole, but her sculptures are still beautifully textured. Instead of an emphasis on human-made objects, Murch focuses on forms from nature like beehives. The organic forms seem to be expanding across the walls and floor and slowly taking over the gallery space.
Overall, the work in “Paper Fortress” provides many examples of bold fiber creations. Whether paying heed to the natural-made papers in wasp’s nests, the ancient historical use of paper by humans, or contemporary mediums like timesheets and information distribution, it would be wise not to pigeonhole paper as merely the stuff in your printer.
Pterodactyl is located at 3237 Amber St. on the fifth floor; 215-501-7158.