Arts Magazine: Hagen/Hark: New Walls

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Minnesota Artists Chad Alice Hagen and Mary Hark Create Large-scale Fiberworks

As tapestries, altar cloths, and prayer rugs, textiles have had a long relationship with architecture, one that has endowed them with a profound sense of place. Minnesota textile artists Chad Alice Hagen and Mary Hark explore this concept of place with two distinct bodies of work that share some important characteristics.

Their art reflects their experiences and circumstances and mirrors their responses to the culture and environment in which they live and work. Both artists choose media that have links to the distant past, and they regard the wall as a point of departure. Each departs from this point in an individual way, however, creating vast expanses of textile that redefine the conventional meaning of walls.

Chad Alice Hagen, for example, explores the idea that a movable textile wall can provide a place of stillness and reflection, the same way ancient nomadic tent dwellings offered protection, refuge, and silence. Her investigation of pattern flows naturally from her construction process. She cuts, recuts, arranges, and stitches together thousands of hand-felted fragments into monumental fields of color, leaving the juxtaposition of surface image to chance.

Hagen creates rhythmic linear patterns by means of a resist-dye process called shibori: felt components are wrapped around a cylinder, bound by cord, and dyed or overdyed with intensely saturated color. Many of her compositional elements refer to the natural world-water, lingering clouds, animal skins, and, more exotically, oversized leaves and exposed ribs. The wool in Hagen's pieces is compact and thick; with it she creates expansive surfaces that accept color, light, sound, even thought and thus, become tranquil places of absorption and meditation.

Mary Hark conceptually maps and traces the human presence in large-scale mixed-media pieces. Unlike Hagen's dense work, Hark's walls are thin, stratified sheets that hang in relief, subtly catching light, air, and breath. Combining hand-formed Japanese and flax papers. Hark stitches together her pieces slowly in layers, incorporating paint, wax, dye, pencil, and bits of stray cloth. Sometimes she peels away the last layer before adding the next, suggesting a metaphor for the shedding and elaboration of memory.

Hark's compositions often combine the grid structure of quilts overlaid with meandering marks that suggest maps or guidelines. The artist creates vaporous effects by soaking and staining her papers with broad areas of subtle color. She achieves incredible blue depths through her use of indigo; this dye is complex and mysterious, shimmering on the surface like a glazed metallic skin, yet also soft and yielding.

For Hagen and Hark technique, the physical facts of making their pieces, is fundamental. Both artists realize the interplay between process and final image and affirm the possibility of a fully expressive textile. In "New Walls" they explore the contradictions between our longing for security, privacy, and intimacy and the fractured nature of everyday life. Both push the media beyond the traditional boundaries of commercial and domestic function, creating art that is vibrant and poetic.

Chris Allen-Wickler is an artist and the guest curator for "Hagen/Hark: New Walls." She lives in Rochester, Minnesota.

"Hagen/Hark: New Walls" will be on view in the Minnesota Gallery from May 6 to July 17. A free public reception for the exhibition will be held on Thursday, May 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. The artists will conduct tours of the exhibition on Sunday, May 22, at 3 p.m. "New Walls" is presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, which is made possible through the support of the Jerome Foundation.

Citation: Chris Allen-Wickler, "Minnesota Artists Chad Alice Hagen and Mary Hark Create Large-scale Fiberworks," Arts 17, no. 5 (May 1994): 5.