In delicate skeins of thread sewn to form clusters of leaves, handwritten letters, mandalas and other mementos to her mother who died just before hitting the century mark, Lisa Kokin provides potent, poignant metaphors for the cycle of life.
Kokin, whose exhibition history dates in the mid-1970s, was prominently featured earlier this year in two important group shows: The Art of the Book, at Seager Gray, and Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art and Jewish Thought at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. This solo show, which closes October 31, is a prime opportunity to view Kokin undiluted.
Her hand-sewn links, clustered in complex chains, recall molecular structures and the remains of dying leaves, which, when decomposing, reveal skeletal and circulatory structures not unlike our own. The similarity isn’t lost on Kokin, whose outsider-ish works have included faces and figures made of buttons; topical book sculptures comprised of pulped and shredded paper; and wall hangings that incorporate, in a web-like fashion, found portraits of children.
All evince an obsessive quality, and Raveling is no exception. The title might be taken to mean the opposite of unraveling, but it’s really a noun that means loose thread. The artist ties down such loose ends most compellingly in two mandala-shaped wall hangings based on her mother’s emphatic last words (“Take me home now.”). Circling round and round, the scrawl-like text plays in memory like a phonograph needle stuck in a groove, its spidery calligraphy hanging in space from slender filaments.
In another work, Motif, conjoined representations of mother and daughter spiral out from an empty circle, suggesting in broader terms, our links to each other and to the ancient past. In an excellent catalog essay Maria Porges quotes an ancient Chinese proverb. It reads: “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”
Kokin’s work embodies these dualities. It appears delicate, but its underlying strength is what sticks in memory.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Lisa Kokin: Raveling @ Seager Gray Gallery through October 31, 2012.