Crochet + Communication

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Emily Biondo’s Interactive Installation reviewed by Rebecca Juliette

When I entered the Rice Gallery at McDaniel College, I was greeted by the curious sight of students huddled around a giant, copper-colored spiderweb. Upon further inspection, I discovered the structure cradled a small speaker at its center. The ‘spider’ that set this up intended to catch ‘flies on the wall.’ All evening, listeners were drawn in to hear bits of conversation that snaked its way through the chain-linked speaker wire from a mysterious source.Emily Biondo is an English major turned artist who has found a way to incorporate her love of language and her penchant for design into accessible, engaging, and interactive work. Her solo show, Wearables, at McDaniel College makes use of new technologies in conjunction with older storytelling forms, specifically literature and craft.

The exhibit is small, showcasing just three works – two of which were meant to be participatory but suffered from a few technological hiccups the night of the opening. This may have been a disappointment for the artist, but the audience was still able to come away with an understanding of her ideas and an appreciation for her work.

The gallery talk helped to fill the gaps where electronics failed. Biondo explained that she has crocheted for many years and became curious about the connection between crochet and communication. Each object that she crochets carries the emotions and memories of the conversations present during its manufacture; even the time and place that the piece is made is “knit” into the fabric.

When the artist handles or sees something that she has made, she is transported back to the moment of its making, reminded where she was and what she was doing during the act of creating. In this way, the crochet structure holds memories and can conjure them back up with a touch or glance. It is a personal experience that only the maker can know intimately, but that the object carries the energy of. This is one of the themes that Wearables explores. And is most evident in The Empty Room, where memories of a conversation can literally be heard through the work.

The Empty Room features two opposing webs crocheted out of speaker wire. One of the webs drew my attention immediately upon entering the room. At about 4’x4’, their size is arresting and their structure becomes even more interesting when you learn what they are made of.

From far away they mimic the familiar shape of a web, and up close the traditional crochet chains are evident. There is a lot being “said” in the choice of speaker wire and the web-like construction itself. And there are also literal words being said that are audible through a small, centrally placed speaker. The web speakers broadcast a conversation between two people. One person’s perspective is heard through the left speaker, and the other’s is heard in the right. The viewer/listener has to lean down to hear what is being said, lending an intimacy that Biondo purposefully was seeking to convey.

Only one side seemed to be working the night of the opening, but this didn’t detract from the message that there are two sides to every story. And to reach a listening ear, those stories often run through tangled communication webs, leaving so much of the original intent lost in translation. It was also fitting that the conversation is a replay of an argument, but only one side could be heard at a time.

The conjunct of communication and technology is examined further in Headspace. For this part of the exhibition, Biondo has arranged great works of literature on the wall, pages open to a specific highlighted passage. With the assistance of 3D printed headphones, view/listeners scan what resembles an EasyPass over the book and hear the 2016 vernacular version of what was written many years prior in the language of its time.

Again, there were technical difficulties and only one headphone seemed to work the evening of the opening. But it was enough to get the idea across. In the same way that Hollywood reimagines Shakespeare for “today’s audience,” the audio allows the viewer/listener to interact in their own language with the sometimes dusty vocabulary of the past. And it is no accident that the headphones are connected to what looks like an EasyPass, as it is the same technology that allows you to move through tolls without braking that enables you to hear the audio snippets.

The third piece stood out from the others for a few reasons. Indecisive is the odd one out. There are no gadgets associated with this piece; it is just a crocheted word (“Indecisive”), the structure that suspends it, and the shadow it casts upon the wall behind it. Indecisive speaks too, but more subtly than the rest.

With no technological enhancement, you are left with a word, a shadow, and a curiosity about how it all fits together. For this reason, it seemed to garner the least attention from attendees and came off as an afterthought. This was reinforced when it wasn’t as thoroughly discussed in the talk by the artist. Although three works might seem like too few for a solo show, Biondo’s works filled the gallery and the beautiful but “odd man out” Indecisive might have been better served to be shown on its own or in a different exhibit.

Biondo is a graphic designer by trade, but she mentioned an interest in exploring robotic technology during her artist talk. We were all instructed not to steal her latest idea which involves grandparent robots. So stay tuned for slow walking, cane wielding cyborgs that will no doubt have something to say and maybe even something to crochet.

Author Rebecca Juliette is an Assistant Editor at BmoreArt. She spends her free time deciding whether to knit OR crochet and usually ends up playing the tiny banjo. 

Photos from the Opening/Gallery Talk on Thursday, January 28th by Rebecca Juliette. Exhibition runs through February 19, 2016.

Rice Gallery, McDaniel College
2 College Hill : Westminster 21157

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