Printmaking Layer by Layer 

Kala show demonstrates the fragmentary nature of this contemporary art form.

Printmaking can be a pretty archaic art form, but in the hands of this year's Kala Fellowship Competition winners, it's a truly experimental practice involving all kinds of new technology and materials. There's no unifying theme that runs through all the art on display, but the artists definitely do have things in common, most notably their interest in the fragmentary -- decontextualized bits and pieces of images and ideas, reassembled and re-presented in mysterious and enigmatic ways.

For nearly thirty years, the Kala Art Institute has provided professional facilities to artists working in all forms of printmaking, photography, book illustration, and most recently, digital media. The Kala Fellowship Competition is one of the Institute's core programs, and four of this year's eight winners are showing samples of their most recent work at the Kala gallery.

Of the four, Barbara Foster best embodies the new, experimental printmaker. She draws inspiration from contemporary politics and geography, and her work combines traditional and digital methods of image-making. She begins with large-scale digital photographs of Air Force test sites in the Nevada desert, then overlays them with woodcut images of high-tech weaponry. The finished works are a colorful and confusing morass of color and light. It's hard to distinguish between the different component images, but Foster doesn't apparently intend these pictures to refer to specific, recognizable places or things. Their overall effect is simultaneously strange and beautiful: ominous-looking machinery bathed in divine light.

Similarly beautiful and mysterious are Cecilia Mandrile's "Fragile Fragments," a series of jointed paper dolls. To create them, Mandrile scanned fragments of her own body, printed the images, cut them out, and sewed the pieces together. The dolls' faces and bodies look shadowy and enigmatic, mostly because Mandrile's scanning method obliterates a lot of details, creating a kind of smeared or washed-away effect. The dolls are definitely biomorphic, but they look more alien than humanoid, and they all have an indefinable air of sadness. For this show Mandrile contributed a few finished dolls plus photographs of the dolls arranged into various poses -- sometimes dancing, or holding something, or lurking pensively -- out and about on the streets of Berkeley.

Adrian van Allen's drawings and sculptures are the most enigmatic of all; in many cases it's even impossible to find the items on her materials lists in the finished works. According to her artist statement, she's exploring the "intersection of art, science, and technology," but it's difficult to know exactly what to make of her digital photographs of ram's heads, or her series of "Improbable Loves" drawings, each of which depicts a naked girl or woman in the company of a wild animal.

Harry Clewens begins with woodblock prints of everyday objects that have interesting textures and patterns: carved wood, silverware, brick, straw, and stone. He then cuts and reassembles the prints into huge mosaic-collages that resolve, at a distance, into human forms, furniture, or even (in one case) a huge spore. Each finished work is incredibly intricate and almost pulsates with life; "Spore" resembles a giant, round, malevolent bacillus, and "Back View" looks like an anatomy-book diagram of a human with its skin peeled away to expose underlying strips of striated muscle. Compared to the working methods of the other three artists, Clewens' reliance on old-fashioned scissors-and-paste might seem quite rudimentary at first. But his art is, like all the other work in the show, highly complex and sophisticated in its own way.


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