It may be a haunted glade in a liminal forest. It may be the patterns of the universe. It may be the Grim Reaper and friends doing the hokey pokey, or the gossamer traces of a coven of witches. Or an old folks’ home for decaying lumps of cotton candy or wasps’ nest. Or it may be just what it is — artistically arranged soaked, cooked, and stretched fibers of the Thai kozo or mulberry tree.
Whatever it is, Meg Bloom is not about to tell you
The artist’s refusal to be pegged down to any single interpretation was on charming display during a brief tour of “What Remains,” the sculptor/mixed media artist’s newest work, an installation currently on view at City Gallery on Upper State Street.
In the show, which closes Sunday, Bloom has taken Thai kozo fiber, provided by the Thai version of a mulberry tree and soaked and cooked the fibers. But instead of turning the mush into paper, which she has done previously, she’s plucked them, stretched them, and linked the pieces, in some instances tying one to another to create a kind of evocative glade.
It’s comprised of about a dozen separate interlinked pieces, from whorls to curtains to snaking forms. All of them stop short of being anthropomorphic or animal-shaped. As Bloom puts it, while it feels like a kind of woods to her, where she delights in the light passing through and the shadows on the wall, “I want it to be abstract enough so people can figure it out” for themselves.
Yet what the work is about is the theme of deterioration and regeneration that Bloom has written about in her artist’s statement — and discussed in relation to her previous exhibitions.
It shouldn’t be surprising that deterioration and regeneration — a.k.a. death and rebirth, success and failure, hope and despair — might emerge in the work of someone who, while making art all her life, also had as her day job 30 years of social work, including a 13-year stint as the school-based social worker at Wilbur Cross High School before she retired in 1998.
“I don’t think I could have survived without making art. My kids grew up thinking clay was part of dinner,” she said as she led a reporter through her installation.
Yet Bloom was quietly adamant that the work is not making any statement about the gossamer fragility of our lives, or the shrouds we wear even while we live, or the play of light and darkness. It’s more about the process and the materials of art making, which in her case are meditative and long-evolving, she said.
“I love the transparency and delicacy. I often pick up leaves where you have just the skeleton. I love that. I can’t tell you why I’m drawn to that, regeneration, deterioration,” she said. “There’s nothing green [in this exhibition], some [pieces are] ghostly, but you don’t think of them as dead. It’s unlocking the mystery. It’s not what the plan originally was. It’s what remains, something else. Also a metaphor for life, unfortunately.”
If you have a pessimistic frame of mind, you well might see spider webs, or a shower curtain, or shrouds retrieved from a medieval castle. If you’re an optimist, you’ll see all that delicacy Bloom speaks about, or maybe your childhood recollections of a great day at the fair with all the cotton candy — here turned brown with age — that you could want.
Bloom said she wished she could have afforded a lighting designer to help her get more out of the show’s potential for the play of shadow. She is also hoping to install the piece in a larger space in New Haven, or elsewhere.
In addition to the dozen or so sculptural constructions — some suspended from the ceiling, some stretched on the floor before you as you travel through Bloom’s “woods” — there are half a dozen related drawings the artist has made, each beginning with a pressed, charcoal-y image from a long piece of kozo fiber.
On Sunday, when the show closes, Bloom will be on hand informally to respond to viewers’ questions. But don’t expect any ultimate answers.