Real. Vulnerable. Honest. Three things that are true of Fragile Not Found, an exhibition at Woodland Pattern which featured works from three emerging Milwaukee artists: Molly Hassler, Anika Kowalik, and LaNia Sproles. They each approach themes like identity, queerness, vulnerability, and nostalgia through fibers, printmaking, painting, paper-cutting, installation, and sculpture. A series of public events were programmed in conjunction with the exhibition to engage the surrounding community: an Artist Talk with Molly Hassler and a workshop with Anika Kowalik. Unquestionably, these are three artists to keep your eye on; Hassler was recently named a finalist for the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship in the Emerging Artist category and coordinates a Student Artist in Residence Program for PSOA students in addition to maintaining a studio practice. Like Hassler, Sproles and Kowalik are constantly in the studio and exhibiting work around Milwaukee. Sproles has a series of new drawings in an exhibition at the Portrait Society Gallery that opens on Friday, December 7th, 6-8pm. Kowalik has work in Var Gallery’s 5th Anniversary show which opened Friday, November 30th. If you can’t catch them on the opening nights at these exhibitions, be sure to check out their work during gallery hours. That’s how I explored Fragile Not Found; which was on view November 1-25 at Woodland Pattern.
Entering the space, I was immediately impressed by the size and presence of Kowalik’s Somewhere Warm. A large-scale multimedia piece on un-stretched canvas covered in acrylic, glitter, barrettes, and kanekalon (fake hair); the piece connected me back to the innocence of childhood at the moment it collides with adolescence. Scribbled outlines of flowers function as a background to the sections of hanging hair which are adorned with barrettes and glitter. I thought of the first time a child is given the opportunity to dress themselves - to pick out their very own outfit/accessories; how our tastes change with age but we never lose our sense of identity and originality.
The sheer size of the piece requires the viewer to dedicate time investigating the details and if they commit, they will be rewarded. The materials felt satisfying to me as a viewer, thinking of them as both accessories and as tools to create a painting. Kowalik’s large pieces in this exhibition were supported by a series of 5 painted mirrors displayed on a shelf nearby Hassler’s large quilted painting, Out to Dry. Thick with globs of paint and etched marks - Kowalik’s series has a limited color palette of only black, white, and the occasional gray tone. Loosely resembling landscape, I was again reminded of painting and Kowalik’s ability to create a unique voice through their use of materials, which feels closely related to the development of one’s ever-shaping identity.
Hassler’s sculptures Dangerous Objects Made Safe are fabric cocoons that house personal items from a past relationship. They aren’t easily recognized at first, being concealed in fabric, but one is left to guess that perhaps they could be a small diary, a book, a bracelet, a compact mirror or a framed picture.
The personal, nostalgic objects are sewn into their very own individual pouches and then displayed within vitrines. As I sorted out the mention of vulnerability in the exhibition statement, Hassler’s pieces from this series were ones I understood instantly as emotional artifacts put on display. They really made me reflect on past relationships, either romantic or platonic; and I found myself searching through pleasant memories and also memories I wished I could fight away and forget. Daily objects and keepsakes become catalysts to navigating these emotions that we as humans all have to face. Hassler tasks herself with “making the objects safe again” by covering them in fabric and using the materials literally to create a sense of closure. I’ve always admired artists who can make work that resonate with universal emotions and experiences. Hassler knows how to do just that.
Sproles’ pieces are reminiscent of our ever shaping identities. A character floats in space as it juggles a cluster of faces. Another character’s head and hands sprout out of a group of houses that are threaded together on fabric. Her characters feel familiar, they become representative of human emotions.
Being close to home or searching to find our true selves in the world that surrounds us. Grasping on to shreds of our experiences, memories and friends that we don't want to lose. Balancing those feelings as we navigate future relationships. We’ve all felt these things.
The works in this exhibition challenge the viewer to consider their own identity and personal histories while interacting with three artists who are tackling the very same feat. Sproles, Kowalik, and Hassler are exploring gender, race, and identity politics; as referenced in their statements and through their artistic practices. They have opened up an opportunity in the gallery for others to explore states of vulnerability by putting themselves out there as black, queer, and femme artists. Kowalik is unafraid to confront painting through installation and assemblage, Sproles opens up the world of printmaking through collage, drawing, and patterning. Hassler shows us that fiber work has a place in the gallery and should be welcomed with open arms. All three remind us that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the things that really matter; and explore our own ever-changing identities.