Time and Materiality, a feast of textures and techniques

Laura Tabakman Trametes Polymer clay and paper bags Michelle Browne The Three Sisters/Dray Shvester Rusted, printed, stitched cotton blends, vintage lace, pillows

By Staci Offutt

Time and Materiality is a symbiotic collection of works by Michelle Browne, Camilla Brent Pearce, and Laura Tabakman. With 33 pieces, including a large-scale installation, these three artists have transformed the Spinning Plate Gallery in the East liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh into a feast of textures and techniques, fabric and ephemera.  

Photo right: Tabakman, Trametes, Polymer clay and paper bags; Browne, The Three Sisters/Dray Shvester Rusted, printed, stitched cotton blends, vintage lace, pillows

Michelle Browne’s work is buzzing with abstract shapes and forms that vibrate, some of which are animated with obsessive doodles. In “Three Sisters/Dray Shvester,” bodiless dresses emerge from the gallery wall. Painterly speculums embellish rusted fabric that bends on each figure, from ghostly knees to hips, clinching at a waist and rising up on vacant breasts. The graphic placement of the markings moves the dresses from bloodied abandoned hospital gown to atomic age uniform and back again. Along with the gestural drawing style, there is an alluring playfulness in Browne’s materials that serves as a stark contrast to her subject matter.

Michelle Browne Drawing on Stories – Sex Life of Grapes I, Plate lithography on cotton batting over pegboard, wire, knitted and crocheted black yarn balls


In her “Drawing on Stories” series, the soft fuzziness of quilt batting is stiffened with ink. The graphic layout of a daily newspaper has been transformed into a whimsical landscape, seasons changing with each consecutive frame.


Photo left:  Browne, Drawing on Stories – Sex Life of Grapes I, Plate lithography on cotton batting over pegboard, wire, knitted and crocheted black yarn balls 


Camilla Brent Pearce’s work has massive gravity for being composed of silk and lace. “Homage: Lou V,” “Homage: Lou III,” and “Homage: Lou VI” stand like ancient archways on a wall of four contrasting blocked-out compositions. Each one is an embroidered architecture of blue-grays and red-iron stain, while “Voile Courthouse Steps,” interrupting the set, is a hypnotic bull’s-eye in barely distinguishable shades of cream. The rhythmic bold forms of this grouping pull and tug, demanding time and closer attention.

Camilla Brent Pearce Voile Courthouse Steps Vintage cotton voile, silk, hand-stitched Homage: Lou VI Vintage chiffon scarf, rayon, rust and transfer-dyed, hand-stitched

Photo right: Pearce, Homage: Agnes and Lou Vintage scarf, silk, rust and transfer dyed, hand-stitched, Shadow/Lace, Vintage Lace, silk jacquard, kimono silk. Hand-stitched

The detail in “Shadow/Lace” has the meticulousness of a typewriter hammering out tiny punctuation across cloth, fine and fraying. Pearce welds together ornate, antique lace with a spindly canvas and forges something striking and feminine. It’s purposeful and salvaged, pinned with 100,000 stitches  Bold from afar and subtle upon inspection, this work is slow and heavy, even as the slightest breeze stirs the wispy edges of nearly weightless materials.

Photo below Pearce detail Homage: Lou V

Camilla Brent Pearce detail Homage: Lou V Vintage chiffon scarf, rust and transfer-dyed, hand-stitched

Laura Tabakman’s work is delicate and encroaching on the space; every experience with it is like a glimpse at a flower just before the petals begin to fall. Each tiny bud of her installation “Growth” clings to the wall carefully with a sliver of color that pops between satin striations of muted earthier tones, a wild collection of genus variations growing up the wall and reaching out like tongues of fire.

Laura Tabakman Growth Installation: Polymer clay


Photo right: Tabakman, Growth Installation: Polymer clay

Tabakman, who appears genuinely comfortable in any medium, marries light, sound and movement with skillfully crafted silk and polymer orbs in “Midsummer Night Dream,” a walkthrough installation. These invisibly suspended orbs, reflecting a glow-like moonlight, blow gently in a breeze of passersby while chirping crickets soothe.

Photo below: Tabakman, Midsummer Night Dream, rusted silk, wire and fabric

Laura Tabakman Midsummer Night Dream Rusted silk, wire and fabric

The commonalities of this exhibition expand beyond the color palette and the shared materials. There is a whimsy and earthliness to all three artists’ work that creates a unified viewing experience. It’s the rawness, the antiquity met with honed precision and perfected craft that Browne, Pearce and Tabakman have presented. This is the convergence that creates the dialogue. This is what makes Time and Materiality such a captivating and effective show to experience.

 Closes March 27.  If you go: Spinning Plate Gallery, 5821 Baum Blvd, 1 block from Whole Foods. Gallery hours: Thursday 12-5 pm; Friday 3-8 pm, pot luck dinner with the artists at 6pm. RSVP before 4 pm on Friday to attend.