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The Egg And I 

Two Light Factory exhibits should be viewed with delicacy

Motherhood, eggs and the budding of a new season are the subject matter of two concurrent shows on view at The Light Factory. At the beginning of the first spring we've celebrated since September 11, 2001, six months after the attack, cycles of birth and rebirth seem particularly relevant, and these feminine meditations and reflections upon humans as a reproductive species are somehow hopeful.

Ginny Atkins' small, intense, visually poetic Portfolio Gallery show, Twice Told, 1995-2001, combines with Nancy Anne Fewkes' mixed media works in The Multiplication of Eggs: Experiments and Contraptions. In the hands of these women, the camera is but one tool of several to serve at their command. Fewkes' tall, multi-media "Locked Cube," for example, contains only a single, very small photograph within a variety of other media such as gold thread and metal wire.

Fewkes' cage-like towers project a sharp message about the changing roles women play in our evolving culture. Rather than being literal, she transforms the three-dimensional "Locked Cube" into a metaphor.

Fewkes' installation of three- and two-dimensional works are sometimes composed intricately; other times, the artist presents straightforward, if misty, albumen prints, wherein she displays as gentle an impressionist hand as Mary Cassatt. In vaguely domestic tableaux featuring egg imagery and children, such as the delicately, gold-toned albumen print "Chest," Fewkes employs simple, straightforward images, projecting a distinctly minimalist ambience, enhanced by the gold-tone, which produces a pleasantly strong, overall sepia color.

Fewkes' work has more force in three dimensions, making her message more clear (yet more complex). The sculpture "Uterus Box" packs a bit more punch than her photos, and has more resonance in the mind's eye. Placed so that the viewer looks down into a red velvet lined box, like a doll's house, "Uterus Box," embellished with sequins and embroidery, provides an anatomical view of eggs and tubes.

Life born from eggs, we're invited to interpret, will one day fade and die. What seems infinite in one's youth will eventually run out. A woman's supply of eggs is finite. This cautionary tale is the focus of Fewkes' installation, acting as a reminder of nature's supremacy over humanity. The artist's visual tale is not historical, but mythological. Eggs, nestled in the womb, as well as a series of plugged-in, velvet-wrapped electric cables transformed into insulated umbilical cords, are among Fewkes' more literal components.

Curved in sturdy remembrance of the sculpted "stays" worn by 19th century ladies as props for the exaggerated "hoop" skirt, Fewkes' pedestals serve as mounts for several of her sculptures that utilize photography, albeit in minimal fashion. These tall, circular pedestals made of thick wire have a touch of ironic nostalgia, symbolizing a time when women were "freed" from the necessity of "choice," and imprisoned in the "cage" of the skirt.

Also on view at The Light Factory, Twice Told, an installation by Charlotte artist Ginny Atkins in the Members' Portfolio Gallery, forms a tableau on three walls of the space. Composed of series, or sets, of "small boxes," these tidy assemblages by Atkins "...reveal the mysteries of collected lives."

In Atkins' Twice Told, a boxed construction with black and white photographs, mixed-media and found objects (1995-2001), the artist's aesthetic may appear to stem originally from the approach taken by surrealist artist Joseph Cornell (the preeminent maker of "small boxes"). Yet Atkins' 21st century constructions, with their more high-tech approach and personally rendered components, contain more objects of the artist's making and reflect a more personal history. Her use of objects is deliberate and calm; "Box for Nic" is well-developed, thoughtful and poetic.

Atkins says, "Past uses and simple functions become metaphors and symbols. They become stories twice told... Images and objects are like glimpses, lines from a poem, or selections from a story. Combined, they can be given additional meaning." She adds, "Like selections from a journal, this body of work includes some personal stories."

In Twice Told, the artist's design skill allows her to reshape the role and meaning of objects and to weave a new tale, a new history, a new story. Fragility yet substance define the delicately colored "Reliquary" (mixed media and found object, 2000), and this delicacy prevents harshness. In this piece, four photographs of the head of a dead bird intersect to form a powerful design, with the bird's actual skull in the center. The composition is so carefully balanced, and the hand-tinted images so restful in their coloration, that the brutal fact of the bird's death is softened. Yet the skull remains a stark reminder of death's immediacy.

Atkins' medicine cabinet style, incorporating mixed media with found objects, creates informal multiple forms that are well constructed, some of which produce cinematic experiences. The six-piece multiple, "Ode to a Daughter," contains a row of wall-mounted boxes; the front of each contains the same portrait of a young woman. When opened, each box reveals a different collection of found objects encased behind glass. The different relationships between the discovered objects and the portrait suggest multiple narratives and memories. The ephemeral nature of the photograph, and the grounded, everyday qualities of the objects within, create a delicate tension that obscures easy meanings.

The Light Factory, located at 809 West Hill Street (behind the Panther stadium), is always worth a visit. These dual exhibitions run until March 28. For more information on this and future shows and happenings, phone (704) 333-9755 or email info@lightfactory.org.

And don't forget, The Light Factory's 20th Annual Benefit Art Auction is coming up on Thursday, April 25, from 7 to 11pm. *

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