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Sophomore Jinx 

Loom suffers from growing pains in its second incarnation

One of the most exciting aspects of the first Loom show last December was the prospect of a new space serving as breeding ground for a new community of artists. Loom 2 further develops that promise, with a few qualifications. The old Chatham Label Mill in Pittsboro is a space awesome in both its size and aesthetic: Shadows dance dramatically against its walls and floors, and the space is so empty there's little to stop their play. Last time out, curator Jeffrey Waites coneceived of Loom as a show that would honor the space and the people who had labored there, and pieces succeeded best when they worked directly with their environment, playing with the light and shadows of the mill and incorporating found objects from the premises. The work at the inaugural exhibition by Waites, Beth Sale, and Kimowan McLain were good examples of this, but the latter two artists have no work in this follow-up to the December show. While the space remains impressive, ultimately Loom 2 is not the success that its predecessor was: Participating artists this time around do not seem as interested in the aesthetic potential of the mill, and the work suffers for it.

Two questionable elements at this show are the increase in size (40 artists compared to December's 25), and a dance/performance/video piece by Caroline Williford. In "Heirloom," six women sit in front of a loom, moving strings from hand to hand in motions representing the work that women performed in looms like this one "at the start of industrialization," according to Williford. A minute or two into the piece, the women stand up each in her turn, and we see that they're tied to the loom. By the end of the piece, one of the women has collapsed, and the rest have been drawn to the loom. As with much political art, the symbolism seems either inartfully obvious or scathingly precise, depending upon your disposition.

Although much of the new work this time is self-reflexive, there are some pieces here that make good use of the space. Harriet Hoover's "Safe Fields" is made up of clay balls found at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, and glass bottles, some of which are 50 to 70 years old, left over from past mill workers who lived in houses behind the mill. With struggling ecosystems contained within each bottle and an arrangement representing a pasture, "Safe Fields" brings the environment and spatial aesthetic from outside the mill to within its halls.

To the right of this work is Stacey Kirby's "Note: When Machine Is Operating Under Power It Will Be Necessary to Make Occasional Small Adjustments," which is composed of a suspended metal window frame (found at the site) within which rest 18 drawings of thread copied from a blueprint book (also found on site). The frame is anchored by spools of thread that Kirby used to attach the drawings to the frame. The references to the mill and the amount of effort that was invested in this piece make it one of the more impressive installations at Loom 2.

Alongside Kirby's piece, Waites, Angela Salamanca and Lauren Adams exhibit "Shirley (Was Like That)." Strong in its simplicity, this piece consists of three fire hoses found at the mill, hung from the ceiling and coiled onto the ground. They catch both natural and electric light beautifully, and draw the viewer's eye up to the ceiling after it has gone from the floor to eye-level in the two pieces to the left.

Waites' hopes for a third show are high, as they should be. The low points of this exhibition could be written off as part of the transition to a fully matured third show, while the well-conceived pieces at this show, and the promise of continued access to this great space, should continue to propel the Loom community forward. EndBlock

  • The Loom series of art exhibitions suffers from growing pains in its second incarnation.

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