First: there's this uncanny feeling of the familiar gone strange... Eliza Fernand has designated the first room in The Fort Gallery with the theme of "Precipitation, Evaporation, Condensation" but the forms and textures she displays are not equivalent to the natural world, they are however parallels. On the floor, there is a figure that shares its form with a large rock formation, not smooth like a boulder but fragmented and bulky. It is dressed in cute fabrics Fernand has sewn together, much like a crafter's tea-cozy, in patchwork of stylized floral sprays.
From this room, there is a doorway adorned with a cascading canopy of multicolored pieces of yarn; knotted and braided meticulously, held together tightly with the tension of a string instrument. They almost beg to be plucked like a harp. Crossing this threshold almost promises further experiments of the world beyond, to a fun-land or a more mystical and dreamy place. Through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole.
The next room presents a cityscape of miniature skyscrapers and factory steam pipes clad in felt with soft edges, a plush industrialized world. A stuffed felt fire emerges from the window of one building. These buildings, some with sloped roofs or oozing smokestacks, easily make you feel perverse if you notice their unquestionable phallic resemblance. Intentional or not, this dichotomy of the masculine presents itself dressed in soft, plush, home sewn textiles.
Then there is the room Fernand calls “The Forest," filled with tear-drop-shaped objects suspended from the ceiling. Filled with sand, dangling and drooping, it was hard for spectators to not swat at, bat, bop or spin them, or even cup them perhaps. I heard one gallery-goer suggest, "These are rather testicular, aren't they?" Indeed, my friend. How poignant. But of course this is a forest of whimsical colorful dewdrops in hot pink spandex sparkly fabrics or turquoise nylon and nothing more, right? Seriously, get your heads out of the gutter.
Another exciting room is "The Cave" with the knitted stalagmites and stalactites dripping like meringue from the ceiling to the floor with their crocheted paired peaks melting into each other. On the wall opposite the entryway is a piece dramatically illuminated: a circle with many rings and hoops; each ring defined by a separate textile with a separate pattern. The light hits each fabric uniquely; a purple, velvety texture seemed to garner the most attention as the light hit each cresting direction of the rich fabric like moonlit sparkles on a sea. Because of the context of this piece, in the cave room, I can't help but think of the revolving avalanche tunnel on the tram ride at Universal Studios. I am so cultured. Probably more accurate (or at least more intellectual-sounding on my part) is this piece's likeness to a mandala, with its geometry charting the cosmos of another world. Or perhaps it represents the rings of a tree.
Fernand is kind of an alchemist. She creates a cryptic admixture of materials and unexpected juxtapositions. She explores mineralogy, geology, and architecture and contrasts these phenomena with feminine fabrics and soft textiles. It's a hard world gone soft.
(Images: Eliza Fernand, Crocheted Canopy, 2005-2009, crocheted yarn, nails; Elilza Fernand, The Forest (installation view), 2009, fabric, sand, yarn, mirrors. All images courtesy of Fort Gallery and the artist.)