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Con Air
Listless Exhibition Of Potentially Mercurial Kites Hung Like Wet Washcloths
kite by Scott Skinne

 

kite by Robert Trépanier

 

kite by Byron Kim

 

kite by Lesley Dill

JUST HANGING AROUND: Kites designed by (from top) Scott Skinner, Robert Trépanier, Byron Kim, and Lesley Dill.

 

Paper in Flight

Presentation is everything. And that is why the static and ultimately unmagical clothesline display of Maryland Institute College of Art's international kite exhibition Paper in Flight is disappointing. This kite installation is part of a series of events heralded as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Beltsville's Hand Papermaking magazine. The specific focus of MICA's part is to introduce the traditional use of washi paper in Asian kite-making. To this end, 10 distinguished kite artists from around the world provided several small examples of their craft, ostensibly to illuminate the papermaking symposia and workshops at MICA. Partnering in this effort is Hiromi Paper International, which supplied the authentic Japanese paper. However, MICA--a place that should be acutely aware of how object lessons work, of how cultural traditions and structural intricacies might be most effectively conveyed and experienced through the poetics of presentation--neglects its entrusted kites and viewers.

With the noteworthy exceptions of Lesley Dill's centerpiece construction, "Divide Light (Healing Man)," in full command of its significant space, and Anthony Bodóczky's elevated "Crack I and II, Negative and Positive," which is nicely isolated in the upper level of the atrium, little concern was directed toward most of the remaining kites. If these kites were indeed made by prominent and rising kite masters, as the handout touts, why are they not more thoughtfully displayed? Are the artists in no danger of seeing this installation?

The majority of the kites are hung side by side from two wires running across the plenum of the Brown Center. There are no overt size or geometrical deviations--box kites, for instance?--which suggests the absence of a curator; no lyricism of random ascents and descents of kites in their flying states; no critical spatial distance between the kites to suggest their peculiar nudging rush to freedom.

Conversely, Paper in Flight also deprives you the opportunity to glean inspiration from closely admiring the fine instructive methods of washi paper construction. Most of these kites hang at a mezzo-distance, not far enough away to capture the fantasy kites exist to fulfill, nor near enough to assimilate their vulnerable preciousness--merely dangling helpless and lifeless from convenient wires with tails drooling.

Without a doubt, Dill's large, vigorous invisible man with his heart chakra aflame is a marvel. A photo in the brochure shows him in flight high above the landscape, golden-hued translucence in an azure sky--a tangible soul in the air. The featured form of the project, he was re-created in several smaller versions by students in a workshop led by Dill.

Kites were first developed out of a poetically driven Eastern sensibility to replicate the fleeting nuances of nature: a leaf departing its mother tree to relish a brief, tragic flight, the shudder of a captive insect or water droplet in an invisible spider web. And Eveline Bischof, Alessia Marrocu, and Daniela Zitzman offer kites that approach these ephemeral meditations. You can imagine Marrocu's fragile green shape fluttering timidly in the sky, its smallness emphasizing the vanishing point. Bischof's white ruffled kite was constructed for unpredictable acrobatic movement. Perhaps like a milkweed silk, it might shimmy through the air, a little plant hussy with procreation in mind. Zitzman's kites are more about the web itself--with hemp, yarn, and string she weaves complex texture into her pieces.

Applied to the sky, István Bodóczky's colorful Alexander Calder-like kites are planetary in character, possibly envisioning celestial activities outside the ozone. His son, Anthony, whose kites "Crack I and II" are uppermost in the atrium, may be playing with the positive/negative afterimage left by looking directly at lightning and then looking away to find its black ghost.

The only really Western-looking kite in the grouping is Robert Trépanier's "Large Eyes," a mural-sized pair of eyes that watch down from above. Scott Skinner uses the birdlike kimono shape, migrating its illustrious textile block prints into simpler American quilt patterns.

Finally, there is the matter of the disorienting handout to be addressed. If any kite misattribution has taken place in this review, I blame this diagram. I've noticed other past critiques of the Brown Center's disinterest in labels. Perhaps it's time to pay attention to these comments, because it is exasperating when visitors can't efficiently orient themselves to exhibitions. If we care enough to want to understand, why not help us out?

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Reprinted from The Baltimore City Paper