One of the more memorable works on view during last year's East Austin Studio Tour was Virginia Fleck's Cascade: collective thirst, a frozen waterfall – a frozen metalfall, really – made of approximately 85,000 discarded pull-tabs from aluminum cans, plummeting from the high rafters in a warehouse on East Fifth: part of the tour's "Femme Abstract" show.
"And what," a person might wonder, recalling the way Cascade amazed the senses, "has that ever-busy Fleck been up to since then?"
You can slake any such curiosity by paying a visit to Northern-Southern sometime in the next two weeks. There, in the farther room of Phillip Niemeyer's intimate artspace on East 12th, you'll find Fleck's part of the current "Rebris" show, a two-person exhibition of sculpture made from the now-upcycled refuse of human existence.
Where Cascade comprised meters-tall lengths of multipartite ingenuity, Fleck's newer pieces are not as monumental but hardly less worthy of contemplation. Here, the artist has continued with her pull-tab obsession to create five major wall hangings, again using safety pins to join tab after tab after tab in mind-boggling profusion, rendering what could be mistaken for the excised fur of woolly robot mammoths or large swaths of pelt from a Cordwainer Smith manshonyagger. She's joined her endless tabs into chain after chain, layered those tab-chains atop each other for visually impenetrable depth, used them to create specific shapes that might include a border-defining lacuna as part of the textured scape: heraldic devices for whatever posthuman age we're rapidly approaching.
Also: colors. There are streaks of strong hue shot through some of these new sculptures of Fleck's, where she's incorporated tabs that reflect more than the usual silver: yellows, reds, greens, sparking out from each mass in subtle spectral enhancement. "Look at that," said curator Niemeyer, pointing out a scattered two-tone infusion, gules and or in a faint bend, sinister against the argent field. "It's like now she's painting with the tabs," he said. "It's a beautiful thing."
This exhibition is a small collection of beautiful things. Its first part, in the entrance room, is a group of object juxtapositions by Ted Carey, serving as a sort of cerebral amuse-bouche for the aesthetic buffet. Like how amuse-bouche literally means "to amuse the mouth"? These five small works of Carey's are an amuse-brain that will tickle the hell out of your frontal lobes. Delightful and downright wacky, their power amplified by the these-are-works-in-a-gallery context, they're a light bite before the industry-heavy tabstractions of Fleck that wait just one wall away.
Northern-Southern, 1900-B E. 12th
Through May 8
A big thank you to Jeanne Claire van Ryzin at Sightlines for this review of my work in REBRIS, a two-person show at Northern-Southern Gallery. REBRIS runs April 6th through May 8th. The gallery is open Saturdays, 3-6:30 PM and by appointment. To make an appointment, email email@example.com. To see more, visit my Instagram.
Seeing Things: Virginia Fleck keeps tabs
Virginia Fleck started collecting aluminum can tabs years ago after she came across a shimmering pile of them in a tub when she was poking around a salvage yard in search of metal to weld. Fleck was pregnant with her daughter Circe at the time, and after spending the few crumpled dollars she had on her for the bin of can tabs, she spent the remaining weeks of pregnancy creating long chains, linking the tabs together with safety pins.
“I almost cried, they were so beautiful,” Fleck said recently at the opening of “Rebris,” a two-artist exhibition at Northern-Southern Gallery, that features Fleck’s alluring can tab sculptures along with Ted Carey’s careful, clever combinations of manipulated found objects.
Fleck has long used recycled and post-consumer material for art works, large and small, that are ebullient, buoyantly subversive, and ultimately hopeful. For almost two decades she has collected plastic bags and wrappers which she then carefully splices into wondrous, vivid mandelas — modern meditation objects crafted from take-out food and big box store bags.
In November, Fleck’s shimmering 25-foot long suspended cascade-like sculpture — made from 85,000 can tabs — lit up social media during the East Austin Studio when it when on view in a group exhibition.
Virginia Fleck’s 25-foot “Cascade: collective thirst,” is made of 85,000 can tabs. Philip Rogers Photography.
At the Northern-Southern opening Fleck ran her fingers across one of her wall sculptures. The tabs made a luscious tinkling sound.
For all their elegant composure, Fleck’s can tab sculpture are remarkably simple in their construction. The tabs are linked by safety pin, the chains then tacked to MDF board with a small nail. It’s the sheer density of material that creates allure.
Fleck hires assistants to help. A piece the size of “Treasure 1.7,” which measure 42-by-56-inches, represents about 70 hours of art-making time.
“It’s meditative,” says Fleck of the hours spent making.
Having long since used her original purchase of tabs, Fleck sources more from a variety of places. She saves every tab she and her family use. Friends collect them for her too. Online there are also numerous thrifting and crafting sites that sell them, including the Michigan city of Kalamazoo which in its effort to be zero waste, sells all manner of recyclable material. Fleck bought thousands by the pound, then a few months later went back to the Kalamazoo site looking for more only to find they had doubled in price.
“Maybe I started a demand,” Fleck laughed.
REBRIS presents two contemporary Austin-based artists working with discarded, post-consumer materials: Virginia Fleck and Ted Carey.
Location: Northern-Southern, 1900-B East 12th Street, Austin, Texas 78702
Opening Reception: Saturday April 6, 2019, 6-9 PM
Visiting Hours: Saturdays, 3-6:30 PM and by appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Closing Reception: Wednesday May 8, 2019, 5:30-8 PM
The Femme Abstract, a broad survey of Austin-based, female, abstract artists, showcases a wide variety of approaches and materials from painting to collage, sculpture to installation. The Femme Abstract: stop #420 on the East Austin Studio Tour, 1300 East 5th St Austin, TX, entrance on Navasota.
My contribution to The Femme Abstract, Cascade: collective thirst, is a 27 ft, suspended sculpture made form 85K upcycled aluminum tabs, safety pins and key rings. Cascade reveals the beauty of the disposable items that pass through our hands. To see more, visit my Instagram.
After three years of design and fabrication, we celebrated the dedication of Reflect and Resound at the Austin Shelter for Women and Children in Austin, TX.
Reflect and Resound are a pair of sensory play-house sculptures that are located in the daycare facility of the Austin Shelter for Women and Children. Reflect is a walk-in kaleidoscope that engages each child to discover their own reflection as a mandala. Resound is a sound-hood that invites children to make and listen for sounds from nearby child-height jewel-flowers or listen for birdsong from the ten-foot jewel-flower that reaches up into the canopy of an oak tree. My hope is that Reflect and Resound will provide a safe space for children to create an extraordinary experience with their bodies and voices through their own ordinary movements and sounds.
Solo Exhibition: Mixed Mantras @ Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas - June 2014