"Megan Wilson" by Laura Richard Janku, artUS, May-June, 2006
Spring by Megan Wilson, 2006, Ampersand International Arts
Quilling or paper filigree, which originated as Scripture ornament and later evolved into a popular Victorian parlor pastime, is enjoying a renaissance among middle-class crafters and scrapbookers. While galleries are rife with reclaimed and affirmed handiwork of the traditionally feminine kind – Ghada Amer and Orly Cogan's embroidered pornography, Rosemarie Trockel's knitted slogans, Seth Koen's crocheted minimalist orbs – the potential for curling and bending thin strips of paper around a quill or other slender instrument has been largely unseen inside the white cube. But Megan Wilson is changing that.
Wilson is best known for her generous public installations that surprise, engage, and enrich the hoi polloi. In her four-part project Flower Interruption (2002/03), passersby were invited to take home giant Technicolor flowers strewn about traffic intersections in San Francisco, Tokyo, Yogyakarta and Ubud (Indonesia). Other works like Bikes (2004) and Becaks (2004) – which involved painting local vehicles in India and Indonesia – are similarly based in public art, relational aesthetics, and social practice. At first sight, then, Wilson's recent exhibition at Ampersand Fine Arts might appear to be retreating – both indoors and in terms of media and content. But despite an initial decorative impression, the work remains firmly but more subtly and personally engaged with issues of space, place, and people.
Included here were five mid-sized drawings and in-situ installation, all created from differing ratios of quilled paper, paint, pins, and sequins. In each, ornate paper filigree is pinned atop a painted grid of muted palette. Pale puce and maize geometry offers metaphoric and visual counterpoint to the overlaying organic energy of 3-D wrought –iron like paper elements. Rather than a study in contrast, this is Wilson's way of reconciling varied and dichotomous influences with singular treatises on impermanence and its implied binary relationships: geometry/organic, rational/emotional, nature/human will, being/nothingness, order/entropy.
What Adam Gopnik recently described as Shaker “slenderness, tenderness, and boxiness” (in “Shining Tree of Life: What the Shakers Did,” The New Yorker , February 13-20) anchors ornate spirals and stylized floral designs inspired by the artist's conversion to Buddhism and her travels throughout Asia. If Nietzsche and Freud were right to recognize in Buddhism a modality of regression to one's origins in quiescence or unbirth, then it should be noted that the artist's mother appreciated and applied the Shaker aesthetic. The drawings offer a diplomatic détente between Eastern and Western philosophies: brown gouache “Trees of Life” – a keystone in Shaker inconography and its belief system – meditate the middle ground between a harvest moon and the superficial quilled mandalas of fiddlehead flourishes and peacock eyes. Wilson's work is also characterized by the balanced asymmetry and exquisite execution fundamental to Shaker products, as well as their market-conscious scale.
Fortunately, the large installation titled Spring (2006) pulls out the stops, privileging the here-and-now over subdued Platonic or religious ideals and salability. Gone is any overt tree referent; Spring erupts with tender shoots, sparkling flowers, and cascading saffron orange tendrils. As if the forms were not corporeally suggestive enough, the paper actually shrinks, relaxes and sways, and the sequins glint and tremble with the changing ambient temperature, light, and currents. And while the Shakers did not shy away from color, the baroque hues and rococalligraphic swoops and swirls are more visceral and lusty than any ritual “shaking” could sublimate.
A single question buzzes about the installation: why didn't Wilson link – like the Fibonacci spirals she favors – Spring to her previous work by including some interactive or socio-relational aspect that would galvanize its message and push it beyond decorative suspicion? Regardless, Spring succeeds by embodying the regenerative and restorative: familiar materials, ideas, and techniques are new again.