In a sense, Ana Maria Hernando’s entire artistic career feels like a build up, where we face her this month, in a new show at the Denver Botanic Garden centered around her eclectic and voluptuous representation of Nusta, the powerful, Female spirit Mountains of Andean mythology.
Hernando has spent decades creating items that explore ways for women to empower themselves. Not how they aim to capture the world, but how they are fully, collaboratively, spiritually, strictly present in it. Her work, which is often made from fabric and thread, argues for the agency of women in sewing circles or kitchens, or monasteries, for “traditional female” crafts and the subversive power in things like flowers and poetry.
For one project, she embroidered with monastic nuns in Argentina; For another, she gathered a collection of petticoats crocheted by female sheep shepherds in Peru. She transforms these raw materials into large-scale installations that ooze with vitality and outlines the subtle and practical methods that women employ to control their destiny.
It is the sum total of all that collective energy that appears to be embodied in this Nusta—at least 8 feet tall, and erupts in smoky hues of grey, black, gold, and white. Above this monstrous mound, a gray cloud of orange and white color hangs from the ceiling. Its forcefield extends across the room.
But Hernando reminds us that this is a female energy. She makes the whole thing look tulle, flowing and copious, and in doing so, turns the material associated with frilly wedding gowns and fancy Quinceanera dresses into a force that can’t be messed with.
It is not an offensive work, just a true and devotional observation about the universe given with artistic freedom. The exhibition, titled “Enthusiasm,” includes several others that draw in a variety of media (from paintings to spoken word, music and needlework) in an environment that flows through the two rooms of DBG’s new galleries.
Hernando brings many of his projects together here. Among them is the monumental “Ecoutan”, which was developed during the pandemic. The piece was originally intended to be an individual exercise where a group of people would go out into nature, listen to the sounds of birds, and describe what they were hearing through embroidery.
It became impossible to do so during the global lockdown. So instead, Hernando asked people to spend time alone in nature, watching the songs of the birds, and sending them recordings. Then she explained herself, creating abstract stories using cotton thread on a soft limb, a fabric that is so light it feels like air.
The opening room of the exhibition is filled with these pieces and recorded songs, representing birds from across the Americas, from places such as Texas, Hawaii and Florida, and from other countries, such as Mexico, France, Germany and surprisingly Argentina. , where Hernando was born and returns again and again.
They hang loosely from the ceiling, turning the gallery into an aviary of sorts, with wispy organzas catching the air in the room and sending the pieces into gentle flutter. It’s not an exact re-creation of the sky or the treetops or whatever the above domains call the bird house, but the spirit is there.
Since the pieces are hung slightly above the ground for closer examination, renderings of the bird call have been replicated in the work on paper and hung on the walls at eye level, each labeled by hand in simple pencil. has gone. “Hummingbirds from Ward, Colorado,” reads one. Second: “Birds of the County, Wexford, Ireland.”
The exhibition becomes even more engrossed in another room, where Hernando has installed another monumental organza sculpture, this one hanging down from the ceiling and appearing like a cloud bursting with energy and lime green and others. Leaving tufts of fabric in colors. That waterfall towards the floor. Again, Hernando balances out the forceful, and potentially fearful, abundance of nature, reminiscent of the harmony energy flowing from it. The piece is intimate and shockingly beautiful at the same time.
The room is also filled with sound, with recordings of Hernando reciting three bird poems, “Wood Thrush,” “Mourning Dove” and “Bobolink,” with musical accompaniment from Dreaming Fields of Action. Hernando wrote the words “imagining the meaning of each song and the experiences of the birds singing them”.
The text is not fully understandable, although its effect is hypnotic. It invites you to stop, meditate, to find some rich connection with nature. In some ways, it is easy to succumb to this proposal; Hernando’s tribute to the non-human world is captivating and honest without tension. It is different from all the other immersive experiences out there these days which try very hard to handle the senses of the visitors.
But in other ways, it must be said, it can be a challenge for those involved in the exhibition to pick up garden plants, trees, and flowers as a side show. DBG’s galleries are modern and efficient, though they aren’t exactly a hot spot. And the building in which they are housed, in the middle of the garden, is modern and sleek and filled with hard surfaces, white walls, paneled ceilings, steel-framed windows.
Hernando occupies the galleries with the full force of his devotional works, but the coolness of the spaces remains in the background. It is not a perfect match of exhibition and exhibition space and it takes some effort to block the institutional personality of the setting. A little more light and the color and softness of the surface might have helped; If DBG is going to act like this, it has to do everything.
A good strategy for viewing the exhibit is to give it some time. The longer I stayed with the work, the more it occupied me, and when it did, I was sufficiently transformed, overwhelmed by the peace and mysteries of the natural world, and overwhelmed by the great and unquestioning mountain spirit. Done.
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