Jardin Femme (Review)

Clay Street Press exhibit on the female experience shows potential of computer-crafted art

If you still have doubts as to whether computer-generated art can actually be true art, look in on McCrystle Wood’s Jardin Femme at Clay Street Press. The 21 computer-created archival digital prints, each in an edition of five, capture both the eye and the mind of the viewer. They're beautiful but not “pretty” and intellectually exciting without being didactic.

Wood, a painter/printmaker who is also a faculty member at DAAP’s School of Design, has been investigating where considerations of the female experience might take her for some time. Earlier works in her Jardin Femme (“Garden Woman”) series took on concepts of beauty and aging. Now, her artist’s statement says, she’s thinking about “the future of the individual, the society and the planet and notions of sustainability.”

What she sees is a perhaps unhealthy fecundity. Choice of colors is telling. No cheerful blue skies, green grass or pastel flowers in these observations. Browns and purples and toned-down yellows predominate, so that when an actual clear green appears in “Epanol (In Full Bloom)” it flags you down (pictured above). The green object, centered in the composition, appears to have secrets within.

These are complex works, intensely detailed in a manner computer art is good at. The subject matter sometimes takes on a liquid look, as though it might reshape itself before you look again. Recurrent subject matter includes the female torso, often the lower torso seen from the back, plus untrammeled plant life and the detritus of human occupation of the earth.

The show is thoughtfully hung. Three works, almost like a triptych, are the first to catch your eye. On the left is “Taquinerie (Teasing),” in which a fierce flower, like an inbred tulip/carnation, blooms on its female buttockssprung stem. Buttocks appear again at right, in “La Muse,” supporting a hairy, formidable flower. Spread between these two, three times as wide as it is high, is “Ladybird and Little Boy,” in which female breasts are pointed upward and predatory flowers appear among wire-enclosed cages.

In the same gallery two untitled works, hung one above the other, suggest private female parts in highly sensual, quite beautiful ways. Nearby is “Peony,” in which petals enclose a tiny garden of bursting life. In the next room the horizontal of “Epanol (In Full Bloom)” is balanced on either side by vertical flower depictions — “Mademoiselle” and “Madame.” In each of the side-pieces the bloom appears on a stem engendered from female lower torsos. “Mademoiselle’s” flower is yet to open but strains to do so. “Madame” has opened and is now pocked and frayed.

A series of three prints, “Taraxacum Officinale (common Dandelion),” comes as a relief after all the images Wood herself says include suggestions of “deterioration, decay and death.” The common dandelion looks decidedly uncommon in these beautiful works. Large (15-by-15 inches) and mounted on paper 24-by-24 inches, each shows a single bloom head-on against a dark background, its yellow distilled to a metallic shade and the petals themselves appearing ribbed. The flowers look as though they could be made of thin gold wire.

Wood recognizes that many viewers are still not used to computer art. She generously includes here an illustrated panel titled “What is 3D Modeling,” describing how she makes this work. A metal can for instance, is created by the “lathe process,” in which a profile of the object (its “spline”) is spun round in a circle to form the shape.

Wood also explains that her computergenerated flowers emerge from a process called “lofting“ which is “almost like knitting … row by row.” She adds that “the more complex the material is, the more interesting the image is.”

These windows into Wood’s technique don’t mean you can go home and do the same on your computer. Or at least I can’t. But looking closely at this work is rewarding and also convinces, if you need convincing, that computer art is indeed art.

JARDIN FEMME is on view at Clay Street Press through May 15. Get show and gallery details here.

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