Transitions at GreenTARA Space Gallery in North Hero, Vermont, features Far from Black and White, an installment by Susan Smereka and Endangered Beauty, an installment by Sabrina Fadial. Their work combines to illuminate our instinctual desire to control our surroundings in order to make sense of the world in which we live. While Smereka reflects upon the human tendency to prioritize progress and purpose, Fadial challenges the notions of function as it relates to femininity. Together their work expresses an alternate perspective that challenges traditional concepts of value, revealing an unexpected sense of purpose that is often overlooked. Smereka and Fadial ask us to consider the minute facets of our lives that may be taken for granted, and reflect upon an essence of existence that is often overshadowed by the systems in which we function, and societal expectations through which we define our ideas of success.
Fadial sets these ideas into motion by making the impermanent permanent and the minute monumental. She forges iron into delicate organic forms that are larger than life. Her medium is traditionally used to build massive structures, and is valued for its industrial assets. Yet Fadial uses iron to explore minute details found in nature. She hammers, twists, and turns red hot iron into delicate forms such as seed pods and flowers. The strength of the metal becomes malleable in her hands, yielding graceful passages of iron that unfurl in space. Removed from the building supply stream, the iron is absolved of its original function, free to take on a new expression as a work of art. Without serving its typical purpose, nor providing an essential function, the value of this iron dramatically shifts. As a work of art it is allowed to appeal to the senses, evoke emotion, and become a tool of inquiry.
The act of metalsmithing holds great meaning to Fadial as it is largely considered a masculine endeavor. Working in a medium that requires considerable strength, and a penchant for sweat and grit, allows Fadial to celebrate a fiercer side of her femininity. Working in a process that is considered masculine, and creating elegant forms that most would describe as feminine, allows Fadial to dispel common cultural associations of traditional gender roles. Fadial’s sculptures take on an aggressive beauty that is startling to see on such a large scale. Their fluidity suggests a moment caught in time, a motion gracefully suspended in space.
Fadial embraces a spontaneous approach to metalsmithing to achieve these effects. While the traditional approach to metalsmithing is meticulous and planned, Fadial’s process is largely informed by impulse. She takes an emotional approach to her work, savoring the opportunity to be spontaneous, and finding inspiration in the detritus of her own artistic process. For Fadial, the most beautiful idea can sometimes come from the haphazard form of a scrap laying on her workshop floor.
The byproduct of the artistic process is central to Smereka’s art as well. She too challenges common notions of value by using scraps of fabric. Instead of casting aside the debris leftover from her projects, she regenerates her artistic waste in order to give value to the seemingly worthless. Smereka is inspired by a call to be resourceful, and an obligation to honor even the smallest scrap. She finds that even the most insignificant piece of material remains significant by virtue of its existence set in motion by her artistic process. The seemingly useless becomes useful again in the context of a new work of art, and takes on new meaning in its relationship to other materials.
Smereka emphasizes the aesthetic value of her material, and challenges her viewer to appreciate a fresh understanding that departs from the original function of the materials she uses. In this way Smereka presents a converse narrative woven together by the backs of tags and snippets of maps and fabrics that are obscured and transformed by her artistic alterations. Her collages ask the viewer to ponder the new significance of these materials, and experience the divergence from their original intention. In this way Smereka develops a sophisticated metaphor that reveals our need to piece together information to make sense of our experience of the world.
Smereka’s metaphor is present in the way she assembles her collages as well. Each piece of material creates its own unique portion of the composition, which is then divided in sections by lines of stitches. Following the tracks of her sewing machine one is confronted by a network of lines, some creating flowing organic shapes, and others that purposefully obstruct the rhythms found underneath. These divisions read like an aerial view of roads and borders, mapping out the systems through which we move, and the structures in which we live. These structures are necessary for our modern existence, provide us with stability and security, yet Smereka’s artwork presents them as superficial, delicate, and almost transient.
The human tendency to impose our own sense of order on the world is even more apparent in Smereka’s Burlington Series in which she paints satellite imagery of Burlington neighborhoods on panels of birchbark. The birchbark provides the backdrop for the familiar network of buildings and roads. The bold geometry painted over the birchbark almost causes it to go undetected at first, but at a second glance it is understood that this is the foundation on which these intersections of life are built.
Both Smereka’s and Fadial’s artwork remind us of the importance of the natural world in its own right, and acknowledge the essential role that even the smallest details play in the structures we have developed to organize our lives. Paying attention to these details allows us to ground ourselves in the truth that even the most trivial element can have value, especially if that value departs from the original intent to take on new meaning.