“Skirt,” 2019, mixed media by Karen Gelardi
“Skirt,” 2019, mixed media by Karen Gelardi
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Karen Gelardi’s exhibit “Helicase,” in the Interloc Gallery at Rockland’s Steel House South, 639 Main Street, is a subtly rich collection of ideas and transformations and the physical objects that represent and reveal them. The exhibit opened on October 19 and runs until Friday, November 29.

Portland-based Gelardi grew up amongst a creative family, who had a factory that produced audio-cassettes, CDs and other technical products. It also housed a group of artists, industrial designers, and draftsmen and provided a vast after-school tricycle riding and racing space. So she’s got industrial processes in her bones, just from pedaling by them as a kid, just as she’s got fast-flowing thoughts racing through her mind. Visiting with her and seeing her show is a rich experience of shifting places and morphing forms.

A helicase happens to be an organic enzyme essential to all life. The human genome alone has 95 such helicase enzymes, and they are “un-zippers” — they separate the paired strands of DNA in many ways in order to recombine, replicate, and translate them into the innumerable multiples that produce lifeforms. The science is vastly more complex, but the helicase is the metaphor for the rich trove of ideas that inspire Gelardi’s recombinant artworks, unzipping and re-zipping with the natural energy of freshly changing or evolving life. Her studio, she says, is her “microscope for aesthetic research” where she explores and experiments with “an intuitive science, growing imagery into something with palpable life force.”

First things first. All the works in this show, while they can be read as paintings, are fabric-, plastic- and paper-based, sewn and assembled collages, using many kinds of materials, from the transparency and reflectivity of acetate to commercially gridded fabric, to the loosely woven familiarity of commercial colored tarps. The colors can be dyed elsewhere, unzipped and “helicased,” and brought, freshly re-sewn, to each artwork. The materials are sometimes reflective, pushing the light quickly back to the eye; sometimes softly absorbent, drawing the eye in and slowing its progress in looking. The spatial push-pull of 3D illusion is sensitively reimagined in each piece, each an assembled 3D object either hanging on the wall like a painting or tapestry or arranged on a pedestal, or even the floor.

“Signal” is a tarp, cut from orange, black, and blue fabric, each brass-grommeted and re-sewn into a new form, folded more or less randomly and hung loosely from pins in the wall. Clearly, it could be unfolded and have a different look or function. Gelardi says that it once was a tarp for a truck in her driveway. But at Interloc, it’s on the wall as an artwork — one form of many possibilities — treading lightly into sculpture,” she says.

“Mark 10 CX 45” and “Mark 10 CX 90” are two unusual pieces titled after specific 45- and 90-minute tape cassettes that her family produced when cassettes were the latest in audio tech. Memorex bought a lot of Mark 10s, and you probably popped them into your tape player back in the day and listened to Talking Heads and Blondie. Each piece here is a rope of different length, wrapped with fabrics of many colors, materials, and markings. Each hangs in loops from pegs on the gallery walls. Each line is a progression through time and space, the visual equivalent of sound in time. The lines move quickly or slowly with the feel of the run of fabric — at times, rapidly through a long section of blue plastic tarp, so common that it flies by, and other times, a short section of spontaneously ink-splattered, grid-like material catching and slowing the eye. Each of the “Mark 10s” runs in its own time, a forward and reverse visual music that captures memory and presence.

Don’t miss the endearing series of “Selfies,” where the artist creates small landscapes featuring paper dolls of herself wearing wild coats and puffer hats!

Gelardi grew up beside a marsh in southern Maine and landscape plays an important role in her imagery. She often begins with observational drawings of the organic energies of plants that she then de- and re-constructs in new combinations. Using varied media and production techniques from simple ink on paper or textile, to photocopies, she also has mastered the magical printing process of dye sublimation, where heated inks “sublimate” into a gas, which bonds directly to a fabric and then cools to a permanent solid state, leaving textile and drawing softly unified in texture.

In fact, this coming Saturday, November 23, at Interloc/Steel House, Gelardi will be leading a dye sublimation workshop from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Using inks and fabrics reclaimed from the industrial printing business where Gelardi is a lead designer, participants will turn their own ink drawings into an assortment of 15"x15" one-of-a-kind textile monoprints that can either be art pieces in themselves or components for other projects — your own helicases perhaps. For more information, check Instagram (@interloc_projects), or email gallery@rocklandsteelhouse.com. Interloc Gallery at Steel House is located at 639 Main Street in Rockland.