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Carol Hepper: Translucency and Light

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 12/4/2002

Translucency and Light

Carol Hepper

Maryland Institute College of Art's Decker Gallery through Dec. 15

Carol Hepper's current show features large sculptural tapestries of translucent fish skins woven together with fishing line. They are hung from the ceiling beside fields of color either painted or papered on the walls. Like the artist's earlier experimentations with tent and tepee shapes, themselves partly composed of translucent animal hides, these new works exploit the tension between life and death; they seem to be about the regeneration of organic waste material (fish skins are commonly used as fertilizer) into animate abstract forms. The pieces also function as a sculptural dissection of painting by separating canvas, color, and light into discrete layers.

Hepper's craftsmanship is exquisite. The delicate compositions of fish hides, themselves appearing on the verge of decomposition, are knit with remarkable dexterity and skillfully arranged into patterns reminiscent of both the natural harmony of aquatic schools and the manufactured geometry of machine-aided design. The effect is reminiscent of being submerged in water, particularly in the largest piece, "Island" (pictured), installed in the back room of MICA's Decker Gallery. Here, a very large quilt of salmon skins, crocheted into a gentle swirl of motion, hangs in the center of the room. As the overhead lights, designed by Dave Moodey, cycle from murky dark to white brightness, corresponding to the circadian revolution, the shadows on the walls and floor ripple and shift, as if shimmering water. The skins are highlighted with thick dabs of glow-in-the-dark paint that affect, at "night," the supernatural glow of bioluminescence.

Born in 1953 and raised on a South Dakota Sioux reservation, Hepper says in an artist's statement that she is moved to make art that is "charged with the history of the animals that have lived within the skins." Indeed, she effectively subverts the flatness of her material by mounting the pieces several feet away from the wall, allowing the paint on the wall to fill the sculptures with the weightless volume of light and create interior substance beyond the skin: color, shadow, space. Similarly, the rich variety of lived experience is articulated in the endless play of shapes available to viewers as they move about the work.

Hepper moves from skin to skein in two copper and metal sculptures that accompany the exhibit. These whimsical sinews of copper tubing, painted a vivid, leafy green, snake through metal joints that look very much like large, soft buttocks.

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