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TAKING PLACE – essay

Barbara Garber’s work draws its energy from the wedding of disparate and often surprising elements. Alliances are forged between industrial materials and lyric line; stillness and motion; spontaneity of gesture and control; space and flat plane; machine-made and handmade. The gestation of these pieces is like a wrestling match that turns into a dance. Elements remain separate but held in a tenuous equilibrium, with inked grid on mylar acting as a base for the shapes and lines that soar and layer space. The wish to synthesize overcomes compartmentalization and fragmentation, seen by some as the demons of the twenty-first century. The energy is fomentive, fertile.

A monoprint is often the starting point of the work, offering marks to work against or with. On the press a string may be draped across the plate; cut or folded paper, plastic screening—anything maybe drawn into service. Garber is an artist who cherishes the serendipitous. If her art were likened to music, it would be less solo performance than the call and response of jazz.

The pieces that comprise the current exhibition interact with one another in this particular room on these very walls. The initial impulse to create circular forms, Garber said, came from the space itself, which is dominated by two round columns imbedded in one wall. Movement and ephemerality are the operating principles. The process of working is kept fluid as long as possible to retain this sense of impermanence.

At the core of “Taking Shape” is movement. A large piece called “Turbulence” seems to move out in all directions at once. The swirls of “Turning a Corner” spin off onto another wall. The energy of the line, which is both casual and spontaneous, spirals,curves and swoops making the work feel slightly out of control. But these do not fore shadow or depict cataclysmic happenings. The lines and vortexes that turn on their axes do so with a politesse, a certain grace. Even Garber’s process is kinetic — stooping, kneeling, climbing, a line taking its shape by “what my hand wants to do.” She then attacks pieces, cutting them apart, laying in hints of color, wiping some areas, darkening others. Material is important: the mylar she uses is both lightweight and substantive. Equally important is the mylar’s translucence, which enables a piece to join the wall, become part of it. It lends itself to layering, thus amplifying spatial relationships within the piece. Once the pieces are put together, the shapes and lines are held in suspended animation by the printed grid.

Yet in the face of all this activity, one of the strengths of Garber’s work is the quality of containment. The movement pulls against a taut inner axis, adding tension and another level of interest to the work. The final arbiter of this is the space of the room itself, its color, quality of light, dimensions, and the surface of its walls. And while the particulars of a space may be contemplated, the realization and actual birth of “Taking Shape” remain unknown until this final collaboration — when the visual idea is realized and brought to life by its environment.

Arlene Distler, the author of this essay, is a poet, freelance writer, and art critic who lives and works in Brattleboro, Vermont.