Not Alone 

The Berkeley Art Center's juried showcase highlights common themes surrounding place and belonging.

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Juried exhibitions offer a diverse range of artistic method and argument, grouped solely on the basis of their outstanding status within their arts community. They're especially exciting when an unintended theme emerges amid the disparate statements, revealing an unconscious collaboration between the artists. Within Feature, this year's juried portion of the Berkeley Art Center's Artist Annual, an interest in the relationship of place and belonging bubbles beneath the surface of many of the works. Out of more than two hundred artists, Berkeley-based artist and juror Weston Teruya chose just eight who intrigued him most. Ultimately, the collection emerged as a harmonious chorus of textural melodies employing a variety of unconventional media.

Ealish Wilson, a UK artist now working in the Bay Area, negotiates a sense of place through intricate textile sculptures. In Feature, her large piece "Blue Ties" hovers ethereally above the rest of the works like a ghostly guardian. The piece is a sheet of rice paper hand-embellished with shimmering silver applique and molded into a sculptural pattern with hand-dyed blue zip ties, roughly resembling a cross between a Japanese shoji door and Hokusai's "Great Wave." At the show's reception, Wilson explained that her pieces hark back to her experience being mentored in Tokyo. Even though a decade has passed since then, the feeling of simultaneous discomfort and awe that accompanied her study of Japanese design aesthetics will always remain profoundly important to her work, she said.

Across the room, Pallavi Sharma's "Monsoon" consists of a swarm of paper boats that together form a human face with a video screen standing in for the eye. The piece was inspired by Sharma's experience of isolation following her move to the United States after receiving her Ph.D from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India. The piece speaks to what Sharma sees as our society's dire need for community — to realize that we are all companions on a voyage. And to add a personal, cathartic touch, Sharma used pages from her doctoral thesis to build the boats.

Ann Schnake's "Tragic Potatoes" takes the idea of home to a more intimate level, calling attention to the body as our most crucial and fundamental habitation. The installation consists of a grouping of potatoes that have been surgically stitched, as if tended to like human wounds. Along with a ball of hair, the gruesome spuds are presented on a bundle of suture material. Schnake's experience as a former nurse has obviously influenced her work, which points to a collective bodily and ecological hurt.

Other exhibiting artists are Leigh Wells, Jane Norling, Joanna Kao, Toni Gentilli, and Marcela Flórez. Altogether they, make up a sincere and technically impressive group, challenging the East Bay Art community to expand its scope of both aesthetic originality and topical discussion.

Feature runs through March 2 at the Berkeley Art Center (1275 Walnut St., Berkeley). 510-644-6893 or BerkeleyArtCenter.org

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