According to the artist statement, Catherine Eaton Skinner’s exhibition Tiirtha—a Sanskrit word for pilgrimage site—was inspired by her trip to India, as well as Tibet and Bhutan.
A show based on tourism of another culture—especially multiple cultures that are often unfairly grouped—implicitly raises questions of ownership, outsider perspective and contextual treatment.
Yet despite these problematic issues, the works themselves are beautiful. Mostly encaustic, mixed-media and Himalayan paper on panel, the works feature a conflation, but also a happy confluence, of cultural objects.
Though many of Skinner’s pieces have religious references, the final products themselves are spiritual in ways that transcend specific practices. Clean minimalist lines and sturdy construction meet the cathartic frenzy of organic materials.
In “Kamidana II,” a series of red rectangular boxes bound by gold leaf, protrude from the wall and nearly span the height of the gallery. Stones wrapped in shards of cloth rest atop the shelves. A kamidana is a Japanese Shinto miniature shrine. Skinner replaces the usual offerings of food, flowers and prayers with rocks.
The minimalist aesthetic of the red boxes complements the organic writhing of the silk and the rocks’ rough crannies, making for an impressive, if inaccurate, shrine all its own.
In “Enso IV,” pages from a Tlingit earth prayer are adorned with what look like East Asian sumi-e ink circles. The panel is belted with a loose jumble of feathers and silk shards, like Tibetan prayer flags tattered by the brutal Himalayan wind.
The Ayyanar Guardians series consists of panels that feature the titular South Indian village guardians. The wild-eyed animals stare back at the viewer with a glazed look that seems more as though they’re plotting to raze the village than watching over it.
Skinner, however, does not intend harm. Her works are sometimes wishy-washy, with liberally scattered religions and cultures, but they’re a celebration of the beauty found on her travels, nothing more.
In contrast to Skinner’s warm overtones, Dana Newmann brings cool crispness and a refreshing palette for Lead/Glass. Newmann maintains the Asia-philia theme through the use of Japanese cultural markers—geta, tatami mat prints, color illustration cutouts of Japanese people and text, and even the jade-green color scheme.
An assemblage artist, Newmann has worked with many media but, for this show, she narrows her arsenal to lead, glass and occasional silica. Formed glass meets slabs of steel in numerous iterations, from globular nuggets to textured blankets.
Newmann’s work demonstrates greater awareness of cultural tourism than Skinner’s. An attractive slab of jade-green-colored glass, imprinted with the texture of a bamboo mat and perched atop steel, is coyly titled “Artifact II.” In “A Traveler’s Geta,” two clear glass geisha shoes are inscribed with text. The shoes list as imperatives all the places the artist’s feet have been: “Climb the Acropolis/wander thru Kyoto/stand on a glacier.”
These simply inscribed shoes provide the best explication for the dual exhibitions. With their laundry list of locales, the geta describe travel as literally standing in someone else’s shoes to see another’s world. From there, the views can be inspiring.