Weekly Update – Hom’s Clouds and Vox Newbies

This week’s Weekly has my report on Libby’s and my studio visit with Mei-ling Hom and her husband David McClelland. And in the Editor’s Choice section of the listings, my quickie on the Vox new members’ show. Here’s the link to the Hom article and here’s the link to the Editors’ Choice page. And below are the stories — with some additional pix. This is Libby’s post on the visit.

Cloud Coverage

My friend and collaborator Libby Rosof and I went to Mei-Ling Hom‘s South Philadelphia studio on Aug. 9. Hom invited us in to preview a body of work she’d soon be installing in the Smithsonian Institute’s prestigious Sackler Gallery. A sculptor whose work deals with the issue of being Chinese in America, Hom is a public artist whose work I’ve long admired. (image is the artist and her husband, David McClelland, at our studio visit. See bigger here.)

Not only is the artist and Pew fellow installing at the Sackler, but she just won a design competition for the campus walkway at Fleisher Art Memorial. (See post.) In October her “Chinatown Eyes” will debut as part of the Asian Arts Initiative‘s PEI-funded “Chinatown Influx” project. (Hom’s the only local artist included in that effort.)

And the morning we visited she’d just shipped some large sculptures (her “Silkworm” pieces made in conjunction with the Fabric Workshop and Museum) to Tufts University Museum for a show. All this is in addition to teaching at Community College of Philadelphia.

Hom is a gentle, generous soul. Our visit, which I thought would last an hour, stretched to more than two and a half, fueled by green tea and a bubbly, wide-ranging conversation about art, studio life, South Philadelphia and China. Hom’s husband David McClelland — himself an artist, writer, carpenter and Hom’s assistant on her installations-was an active participant in our discussion. The couple seem to be completely in sync.

Seeing work in an artist’s studio requires imagination. Studios are happy places but usually cluttered with tools and raw materials. In Hom’s cavernous, high-ceilinged studio, the new work-35 wire mesh clouds, hanging from the ceiling, sitting on boxes and curled up in the corner-was almost invisible. (clouds in a corner of the studio)

Hom’s clouds are made from standard-issue chicken wire that the artist bends into shapes and closes at the ends the way you would if you were making a pillow or a stuffed animal. She doesn’t start with a pattern but goes straight to the chicken wire for inspiration. Hom uses the scratchy wire mesh itself to close the seams, twisting and knotting it with needle-nose pliers. Sometimes she makes a dart this way too. (She covers her fingertips with electrical tape to protect them.)

Like real clouds, the metaphorical clouds are dreamy and evocative, but take up real space. It’ll take four trucks to get the almost three dozen clouds down to Washington, she says. The pieces will be on exhibit at Sackler for six months. “Free storage!” Hom says. Actually there are six more clouds waiting to be installed at Philadelphia International Airport, she adds, which is even more free public-sector storage.

The airport clouds burst on the scene last year in a show at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, for which Hom commissioned Curtis grad Eli Marshall to compose a musical accompaniment. She commissioned Marshall again for the Sackler piece. The recorded music, played on a bamboo flute by a Chinese musician, will create a soundscape that ebbs and flows as you stroll beneath the clouds suspended at different levels and coming together in what Hom calls “a critical mass” at one end.

Hom met Marshall through Community College. “His grandmother was my student, and she said, ‘You should collaborate with my grandson.'” Marshall, now living and working in Beijing after completing a Fulbright residency there, will help install his new piece in Washington, D.C.

These are tight budget days for the Sackler, which has no money for a reception. And Hom had to pay for the brochure out of her artist’s fee. But Smithsonian Magazine is doing a story about her.
Hom started making clouds in 2001. “The cloud is a symbol of fortune,” she explains. “Repeated cloud forms means never-ending fortune.” Her first efforts were carvings of laminated wood blocks using a hatchet. That’s bringing on the big guns to make something so ephemeral. But the small wood clouds I saw in the studio strongly resemble their wire mesh second cousins twice removed. (image of carved wood clouds)

“Chinatown Eyes,” Hom’s outdoor project for the Asian Arts Initiative, was planned for the side of a building, but because the building’s going to be demolished, it’ll be on the cyclone fencing on Vine Street. The artist, ever flexible, retrofitted her idea to accommodate the new space.

Working with digital photographer Richard Ryan, Hom is photographing the eyes of Chinatown community members. She’ll enlarge the photos and place the eyes, mural-like, on the fence facing both the passers-by on the expressway and the residents of Chinatown. That project will have its official opening in late October.

Hom’s eyes will be upon you this fall and her lyrical clouds will be just about everywhere. Don’t miss a chance to see them.

“Perspectives: Mei-ling Hom” Sat., Aug. 27. Through March 5. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C. 202.357.2700.

“Triple Trouble”

I don’t know what possessed me to go into a hot fourth-floor gallery on a 90-degree Saturday, but there I was at Vox Populi‘s new members’ gallery talk last week. And while the newbies — Corey Antis, Sarah Daub and Xiang Yang –spoke and everybody sweated gallons, I learned again that youthful enthusiasm shines through no matter what the temperature. Each of the artists makes labor-intensive pieces that mine personal territory but do so in a veiled, impersonal way. Young artists today seem to work one of two ways — autobiographically (hot) or impersonally and conceptually (cool). I prefer hot, but that’s a matter of taste, and here there’s much to like. Daub’s delicate paper drawings are beautiful and rebus-like. Yang, a Chinese native who brought along a translator, makes embroidery thread drawings in takeout plastic salad bowls (from Così, he said). He showed some at Spector last year, and they’re virtuosic wonders. Yang’s garlic bulb “Museum Invasion” project is a little too Banksy-like for me, although the snapshot documentation is nice. Antis’ beautiful small drawings of fantasy bunkers (anti-architecture, he says) are social commentary that feels like a work in progress. I’ll watch to see where the artist takes it. A good debut show.

(image is detail of one of Yang’s embroidery thread drawings in a plastic box)

Through Sun., Aug. 28. Vox Populi, 1315 Cherry St., fourth fl. 215.568.5513.