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Show and Tell

Art Review: "Alter(ed) Ego, Family and Friends," Flynndog, Burlington. Through May 30.


What began as a seasonal clothing exchange at the Flynndog evolved into an impressive invitational exhibition. “Alter(ed) Ego, Family & Friends” is a conceptually complex 14-woman show with the subtitle “A group portrait, in vignettes, of those characters (real or imagined) in our lives.” Since planning for the clothing swap morphed into planning for the exhibition, it makes sense that garments appear as metaphors for alter egos in several of these mixed-media installations. Accompanying poems and artist statements are also prominent.

A leopard-print shirt and pants hung on the wall contribute to the playful “Wish to Be Wild” by Melanie Putz Brotz. A tall stand of dried wetland weeds, about 8 feet high, hangs next to the outfit. A coonskin hat and a baseball cap are also on display. Brotz’s poem “Wish to Be Wild” is a paean to being a beast. It closes with “To be part of nature / To know a true sense of belonging.”

Similar sentiments can be read in the bit of doggerel accompanying “Animal Print” by Marie Davis. Her piece also incorporates leopard-print cloth, but in this case the cloth is mounted in a Victorian frame. An elementary school class photo is affixed behind windows cut in the print, perhaps suggesting we are imprinted early with roles among our peers. It’s an engaging piece of visual art, but the accompanying verse with an AABB rhyme scheme is less so. “Both tiger and tamer, at the same time, / It’s my own chair and whip that keep me in line.”

Most of the writing posted in the exhibition is simply distracting.

“Bunnies Shopping” by Catherine Hall includes a little story about Honey and Harry Bunny. The couple, a pair of surreal-looking, 28-inch-tall rabbit-fur dolls made by Hall, hangs on the wall, as does an array of wax doll clothes in festive colors. The installation is weird and slightly creepy, definitely not about cuteness.

An oversized woven coat called “Father Coat,” by Emily Anderson, also plays with scale and mass — on the large side. It actually has a piece of relevant writing with it, in which Anderson relates, “With my Grandmother’s loom I have altered pertinent clothing items to create this coat.” She notes that “neckties, architectural drawings and tracing paper” are among the woven elements. The dramatic piece is like a rag rug with muted colors and different bands of material.

Sharon Webster’s “Soul Bird/Outlook” takes the form of a wall-hung black bird with an outstretched 7-foot wingspan. The two cloth wings are decorated with confetti, sequins and black feathers. A big piece of mirror in the shape of a bowling pin, at the center of the installation, makes up the bird’s head and body.

The smallest piece in the exhibition is Terry Zigmund’s untitled 8-by-12-inch box construction. It’s like a tiny medicine cabinet encrusted with dry burdock, glass, lace and shards of broken mirror. The writing accompanying it comprises a dozen lines of questions, such as “Am I letting in people who will hurt and disappoint?” and “Am I letting in people who love and care?”

Visual artists are not necessarily competent writers, so in a show that includes artist writing, the curator should also function as a strict editor. If the text isn’t as strong as the visuals, there’s really no reason to include it.