Dorothy Caldwell and Kyoung Ae Cho evoke the natural world through cloth.

Stitches in Time 

Dorothy Caldwell and Kyoung Ae Cho evoke the natural world through cloth.

Because the Surface Design Association Conference has commandeered so many galleries, does it seem as if it will never end? One last time, and then we're done.

Of the five fiber exhibitions at Belger Arts Center, the best are the two that are tied to the natural world: Dorothy Caldwell's Marking the Everyday and Kyoung Ae Cho's Tranquil Moment.

Kyoung Ae Cho, an associate professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is a former fiber professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. She has always worked with natural materials, exploring nature's rhythms and our cultural relationship with nature. "Path," from 1999, is a 22-foot-long, 16-inch-wide trail of small wood squares that Kyoung Ae has cut against the grain. The blocks are mounted in pairs on black fabric, the ends of which are rolled into scrolls. It's a luminous and varied trail of changing grains that undulates across the length of cloth. A formalist whose attention to material is always critical, Kyoung Ae lets her conceptual impulses provide her forms with additional depth and context.

In many of the pieces, she has used corn leaves, sandwiching them between silk organza, which makes them appear radiant. In 2002's "Continuation," a wide and narrow piece, she has cut corn leaves into small pieces, pressed them between the fabric and then hand-stitched around them in contrasting thread to create a horizontal line across the vast piece. Her works' delicate appearance suggests the fragile relationship we have with the Earth.

Canadian artist Dorothy Caldwell examines how we visually organize and present images of the land, and this coincides with her interest in historical textiles, stitching, mending and mark-making with thread and cloth. Part of the exhibition is work she has collected, such as a Dutch antique child's sampler book of different stitches. There's also work she did while in residence at the Textile Museum of Canada. These pieces are fascinating as ephemera and examples of her studio process, but they make for an abrupt transition to her monumental textiles.

"Between Hill and Lake," from 2006, is a large landscape with as much relationship to painting as to textiles. Starting with dark cloth, Caldwell applies bleach and wax, layering the fabric in abstract topographical shapes. The piece evokes landscapes and maps, and patches of Caldwell's hand stitching lend texture and visual interest. Her most intriguing piece is a 34-foot behemoth titled "Day by Day" (2004). It consists of black cotton that she has darned, mended and stitched with patches of African cotton brocade that hopscotch across the surface; each square contains a different variety of stitch so that, in some ways, it resembles a contemporary sampler.

Emerging from the natural world, Caldwell's mark-making — like Kyoung Ae's — suggests that the impulse to construct and reconstruct, make and remake, is continuous over time and across cultures.

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