- "Entangle 42"
At the Vermont Supreme Court Gallery last week, Montpelier artist Alisa Dworsky opined, "A work of art is not an emphatic certainty." She was speaking at the July 6 opening of her exhibition of abstract drawings titled "The Folded Line."
Dworsky's work is about process — an evolving, experimental and uncertain realm. The 15 works on paper in the exhibition — seven from her series "Entangle" and eight from a related series called "Fold" — are indubitably finished and framed. Yet they all embody the traces of artistic process, both individually and as sets of iterations.
That process, in both series, involved creating frottage drawings — aka rubbings — of lengths of ribbon that Dworsky arranged under paper. In the "Entangle" works, she used loops of metal-edged ribbon, some placed in dense tangles, and rubbed them variously with graphite or watercolor pencil, filling in select ribbons with color. The series centers its tangles on 30-by-22-inch paper, leaving a wide margin of white.
For the more linear "Fold" series, on 50-by-38-inch paper, Dworsky used a single length of grosgrain ribbon folded at varying angles. She rubbed it with graphite or thick sticks of colored pencil, slightly shifted the ribbon's position under the paper, and rubbed again. The resulting angular forms fill the paper like rocky landscapes or high-rise buildings.
- "Fold 14"
Then she edited the works in both series by erasing. Those erasures are barely visible in individual works, but because Dworsky erased less and less as each series continued, comparisons are revealing. The later works of both series, which are numbered, show more graphite. (The "Entangle" works include two early versions from 2016; the rest are from 2022. The "Fold" works date from 2018 into 2022.)
Cases in point: One furiously dense black scribble dominates "Entangle 43," the last from that series on view. Color appears only in partly obscured glimpses of yellow, green and blue ribbons. "Fold 14," its counterpart in the other series, suggests two skyscrapers rising from rubble. Their bases consist of hatch-like rubbings so thickly layered that they almost completely occlude the white paper.
These contrast with earlier iterations, such as the trio "Fold 2," "Fold 4" and "Fold 3," in which much of the lower layering is erased to show uniform ribbon rubbings from top to bottom.
During a phone call, Dworsky revealed that current events shaped her approach as she worked through iterations of each series.
"A lot was — is — going on in the world that's emotional and intense," the artist said. That led to "a desire not to make them pretty. There is beauty in color, but I wanted to counterbalance that with a fierce, layered line that obscured the beauty. [I wanted] tension between the lyricism of colored form and the fierceness of black-and-white forms."
"The Folded Line" exhibition as a whole merges the many mediums in which the artist works. Dworsky studied painting and printmaking as a studio arts undergraduate at Stanford University, then earned a master's degree in architecture at Yale University. She currently teaches architectural design at Norwich University while pursuing a wide-ranging art installation practice.
Dworsky traces her "Entangle" and "Fold" series back to her exploration of crocheted rope pieces, installed as three-dimensional cones and other sculptural forms, from nearly two decades ago. The forms inspired her to make graphite rubbings of the dangling rope, which became her "Yellow Poly Rope" series. Eventually, she switched to ribbon for both the installations and the rubbings.
- "Entangle 35"
The Supreme Court show embodies elements of all her artistic mediums: the three-dimensionality of installations — ribbon is, after all, 3D; the variations in applied pressure so critical to printmaking; and the use of color, which is central to painting.
"You can find insight across disciplines," Dworsky commented at the opening.
She did that more pointedly in "Job Site," a collaborative installation with Bill Ferehawk at the BCA Center in Burlington in 2019. Drawing directly on her architecture design-build training, that show highlighted the art of building and featured a framed-out, partially sheathed wall titled "Time and Motion." Two videos projected on it showed a chalk line snapping and a plumb bob swinging, reminders that building is a process that involves ephemeral mark making and that happens over time.
Similarly, Dworsky's "Entangle" and "Fold" series explore process; they are a record over time of change and motion. Taken together, they ultimately record an artist's meticulous search for the outer limits of a material's possibilities.