These artists aim for the sky

CRITIC'S CORNER // ART

Kites dance from ceiling in `Paper in Flight' exhibit at MICA

October 04, 2006|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

When kite-making rises above a children's pastime it can be an art form in its own right.

That's the premise at least of Paper in Flight, an exhibition of kites created by artists using washi -- Japanese handmade paper -- in the Brown Center at Maryland Institute College of Art. The show presents about a dozen kites in various shapes and colors suspended from the building's vaulted ceilings as if borne aloft by winds.

The centerpiece of the show is a 10-foot kite in the shape of a dancing figure by MICA alumna Lesley Dill. The piece, made as a collaborative project with students at the school, is called Divide Light (Healing Man).

Dill's kite takes the form of a figure mounted on a rigid bamboo support and printed on brownish, semi-transparent paper that displays a diagram of the blood vessels emanating from the heart along with snatches of the Emily Dickinson poem from which the work's title is taken: Banish Air from Air / Divide Light if you dare.

It's an image that makes a certain kind of sense when you think of a kite like this one flying high overhead with the sunlight streaming through it. Kites literally do "divide the light" that passes through them; and the pattern of red veins and arteries on Dill's piece conjures up mystical associations of the body and the healing arts of Buddhist tradition.

"Kites are normally seen as toys and, therefore, as ephemeral, but they actually have a long and interesting history in many cultures," says Scott Skinner, president of the Drachen Foundation in Seattle, which creates educational projects that use kites to explore topics in science, art, history and culture.

Skinner says kite-making was already an art form in feudal Japan, where each city had its unique type of kite.

In the 1970s, Skinner says, New York artist Tal Streeter traveled to Japan to learn kite-making and created many original designs on his return, encouraging an interest in kite-making among American artists.

"There are a lot of interesting elements in building your art around kites," Skinner says. "First, the environment: You're outdoors and a bit at the mercy of the weather. Then there are the changes in natural light that show different aspects and colors of the kite at different times.

"Kites are not static objects, they're dynamic," he adds, "so there're a lot of things that work into the thought process in making art for the sky rather than making something just for the gallery. These things have to fly, after all."

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

"Paper in Flight" runs through Dec. 3 in the Brown Center's Leidy Atrium, 1301 Mount Royal Ave. Call 410-225-2300 or visit mica.edu.

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