Born Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1971/BA, Wheaton College, Illinois; BFA, University of Colorado at Denver; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art/Lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Marcelyn Bennett-Carpenter would like for you, the viewer, to be involved. Engagement with her work, ideally, goes beyond aesthetic appreciation; her pieces are designed for physical interaction: wearing, blowing, navigating, and especially stretching. Tension is the fundamental quality of weaving; as a fiber artist, accomplished weaver, and instructor at Cranbrook’s Kingswood Weaving and Fiber Art Studio, Bennett-Carpenter’s work is fraught with a baseline tension that is belied at first blush by soft palettes and inviting surfaces.
In many ways, Bennett-Carpenter is the consummate fiber artist—a cohort prone to obsession with materials and the desire to synthesize radically different points of inspiration. The ability to tie together disparate strands is, again, critical to the process of weaving, and one supposes that more than a decade of training and practice with this art has left Bennett-Carpenter in a state of constant and reflexive incorporation of new ideas with old. An ongoing series of house drawings which feature pencil and ink sketches of architectural subjects from around the Cranbrook campus (Abandon: Institute Way) and the city of Detroit (Abandon: 14th Street), obscured by Rorschach-like blots of negative-space vegetation, demonstrates Bennett-Carpenter’s focus on the immediate, the domestic. Not only do these meditations on space, nature, and architecture translate directly to her woven pieces, the center-reflected nature of the drawings suggests the two-sided process that makes all weavings inherently dual (reverse-relief) images. Many of her drawn and woven pieces resemble interior design; Bennett-Carpenter recalls the example set by her mother’s determination, throughout a childhood punctuated by frequent moves, to painstakingly decorate each new home. A series of panels, such as Toward the Left, deals very directly with these ideas of interior and decorative spaces, overlaying Diane Simpson-esque fields of wallpaper and mylar with tight, delicate constellations of thread on pins—modeling an appealing domestic tableau that is subtly fraught with quiet tension, as so many are.
Bennett-Carpenter further deconstructs weaving in a series of focused explorations: Flyers, a series of suspended drawings and streamers animated by viewers blowing on them; Snap!, which presents interactive sculptures in two-way stretch netting, pulled and released through a hole in the gallery wall to create kinetic flashes of line and motion; wearable elastic structures, some of Bennett-Carpenter’s only work that ties into a figurative form, lacing human subjects with flexible contraptions that add resistance and tension to their very movements; and floor-to-ceiling installations of stretchy elastic lines, sometimes plain and densely-strung, as with Turn, sometimes sparse and adorned with paper embellishments, recalling her drawings of vegetation or anchored by ceramic bases, as with Tensions: Yellow, Red, Blue—all of which draw the viewer to play and experiment physically inside the warp of weaving.
But this disparate examination of form seems to be culminating, of late, into the blessed synthesis that creates whole cloth. Bennett-Carpenter’s most recent works are “woven drawings”—for example, Tamarack—that combine many of the elements upon which she has focused so intently. An abstract biota, rendered in bright, playful colors, is drawn onto thin wooden slats, which are subsequently hand-cut into thin horizontal strips. These images are reconstructed through a woven matrix, much like a roll-down wooden window shade, and work in progress shows some of them featuring additional layers of drawn collage elements that have begun to appear on the surface of the weaving. After so much work that isolates the singular dimensions of her craft, it is exhilarating to see Bennett-Carpenter combine these aspects so richly, leveraging the tension of viewer expectation through the process of slow buildup.
It is easy to notice bombast, drama, shock-and-awe. Often the loudest voices are those that draw the most notice, and a call to action is easier to hear than a whisper. Knowing, as we do, Bennett-Carpenter’s interest in the viewer, her quietness as an artist and a person is somewhat counterintuitive. But to look at her work is to understand the power of quietness to make the avid listener lean in—and to do so is to make the surprising discovery that something that looked rigid and tense is, in reality, ready to lean with you.
Rosie Sharp, February 2016
Copyright Essay’d 2015