Friday, December 22, 2006

Meaning of life

Holly Senn brings her life cycle of ideas to the Gallery at Tacoma Community

published in the Volcano Dec. 21, 2006

pictured: installation shot (detail)

Over the last three years, I have watched Holly Senn gradually and methodically refine her art. Her materials and themes never change, but her statements are becoming clearer, and she is fine-tuning her use of words, materials and space. Her latest work, now on view at the Gallery at Tacoma Community College, combines a room size installation with freestanding sculpture and two-dimensional wall hangings. The show is called "Enchanted Forest of the Mind."

Senn defines her work as being about the life cycle of ideas. Her materials are discarded books, tree trunks and branches, and printed text. It is crucial to her way of thinking that all of the materials she uses have been discarded.

A coherent installation fills the back room of the gallery. It is a forest of constructed trees. Three walls are fully wallpapered with pages from books. Evenly spaced around the walls are starkly naked trees spray painted on the pages with black paint. In the center of the room are two tree stumps and three gnarled trees that stand on islands of books. Giant globe-shaped leaf pods constructed from paper with printed text hang from the branches. The islands of books are carefully arranged with an eye toward the overall shape and the colors and textures of the books. This forest has the contemplative ambiance of a Japanese garden. Viewers are invited to wander through and even sit on the stumps. Sit and think about the beauty of trees and the loss of those that have been cut down to make room for commercial development or to make lumber for building or paper for books - books that nourish our minds but eventually get tossed onto the trash heap.
In the middle gallery are two related wall pieces and a few freestanding sculptures. The larger of the two wall pieces consists of three large sheets of cardboard. Tree shapes are cut out of the cardboard and are seen as the glaring white of the wall shining through the negative cutout shapes to form the image of three trees, hung upside down on the wall. The stark contrast of the white tree limbs is enhanced with black spray paint around the edges, which resonates with the black spray painted trees in the back gallery. The pieces that were cut out to form the tree shapes are hung on an adjacent wall stacked one on top of another and are also hung upside down.The freestanding sculptures all consist of leaves or pods made from paper with printed text hung on tree limbs. Most are approximately two to three feet in height and stand on standard sculpture pedestals. Most have a blunt and emphatic look with a small number of pods that are, relative to the size of the branches, huge. But one, titled "Narrative Redux," is delicate and lacy. The limbs are thin. Hanging from the branches are tiny tags, each with a single word printed on them. Its base is an old history book. Some of the words printed on the tags are: Cities, Lender, Greeks, Church, Clash, and Control.

In the front room stands a massive tree with a trunk about eight inches in diameter and huge seed pods made from paper with digitized print in type fonts ranging in size from approximately 36 to 78 point. They look like hanging paper lanterns. Like the others, this tree stands on an island of books; unlike the others, these books are randomly scattered. The papered wall behind the tree is painted green.

This is the fifth Holly Senn installation or exhibition I've seen, and it is the most fully realized. My challenge to her now would be to fill a space equal to or larger than the TCC gallery with a single installation in which all of the pieces are fully integrated into a visual and thematic whole as opposed to being a hybrid between installation art and separate art objects.

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, 6501 South 19th St., Tacoma, 253.566.5000.

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