“Did you notice that?” Toni Alper, a docent for the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts at Florida Tech, asked curiously as she pointed to a collection of suspended pieces titled “Dandelion Wishes.”
“It’s one thing to see this from the floor, but the work looks so different from above,” Alper smiled as she addressed the group that made its way up the stairs behind her. The people who followed behind Alper peered over the railing.
Hye Shin, the artist who crafted the wall hangings, embroidery and sculpture installations on display in the Ruth Funk Center for the current exhibition, Light and Shadows, “saw dandelions as a symbol of the balance that is necessary in life,” Alper explained.
“Dandelions,” the docent remarked, “are both strong and fragile.”
“Dandelion Wishes” is one of Shin’s many acknowledgements of the beauty that exists in the delicate polarity of nature and life. Shin’s work throughout Light and Shadow offers viewers a stirring experience in such contrast.
A statement released by the Ruth Funk Center to describe the current exhibition addresses the significance of contrast in Shin’s work: “The pieces created for this exhibition are characterized by the dichotomy of the natural world (light vs. shadow, sadness vs. joy, life vs. death and recovery). The artist believes these qualities are inherent to nature and critical to understanding and appreciating its beauty.”
Alper was keenly aware of the artist’s intention. The docent stopped at the top of the stairs to introduce the story behind Shin’s experiences of sadness and joy that led the artist to create the contemporary fiber art found in Light and Shadows.
“Hye Shin was born and raised in South Korea, but she found herself in Indiana when her husband relocated there for work. The two wanted to start a family but could not conceive for a long time,” the docent explained. “Shin’s work is reflective of her emotions and experiences. The artist knew both beauty and hardship,” Alper shared.
The titles of Shin’s art revealed the dichotomy of the fiber artist’s experience to the exhibition’s visitors, as Alper led the group passed works titled “Embrace I” and “The Memory of the Trees II” to works titled “Sorrow I-XII” and “Sunken Dreams.”
“Can you tell what material Shin used?” Alper asked as the group wove its way past a textile that was hanging on display. A few people gathered closely to the piece.
“Horse hair,” Alper responded. “Shin used horse hair in her art. She saw the manes of horses flowing wild and free and she was inspired by that.”
“Isn’t that lovely?” two women mused as they admired the masterfully crafted work, but the tone of the viewers soon changed as Alper led the group to an installation of blood bags, red yarn and wire sculptures in the shape of Chinese Lantern plants.
“This is installation art,” Alper began. “Do you know what installation art is?” the docent asked the viewers who had become silent.
Alper spoke: “Installation art raises the question, ‘What is art?’”
The docent’s eye settled spiritedly on the group. “You experience the art. You become part of the exhibit.” Alper explained.
“Notice the use of circles in Hye Shin’s work. Notice how the beginnings become ends which become beginnings again,” Alper whispered.
The viewers and docent stood, looking through the art to thoughts and associations that no one else could see. For some viewers Light and Shadows raised questions; for others, the exhibition offered answers.
Light and Shadows will be on display until December 12th.