Francesca Capone: Think of Seashells at Nationale
A week ago, while disembarking from a small commercial whale watching boat on Orcas Island, I noticed a thick length of rope coiled neatly into a perfect circle. It stood out amongst the subtle disorder of the busy dock, creating a moment of harmony and visual rest. I took a photograph and made a note to research the technique later. It’s called a Flemish Flake, and it’s a common rope wrapping method.
I was pleased to encounter the same technique in Francesca Capone’s piece Scallop, included in her second solo show at Nationale, Think of Seashells. The piece stands out as a highlight in a show that deftly combines rigorous research with moments of spontaneous grace. Centered on the gallery floor, Scallop acts as an anchor point from which the surrounding wall works radiate. Spiraled turquoise rope is held in place with layers of woven cotton. The rope’s thick end is tethered with bookbinder’s tape, a move suggesting that Capone is comfortable transforming materials to fit her needs. The viewer is offered the opportunity to sit on or otherwise engage with the piece, which encourages more intimate interaction with the surrounding works and written components.
Capone’s work is informed by her ongoing research on textile poetics, and in Think of Seashells, this conceptual framework is supplemented by an inquiry into place. Many materials in the works were found on location. Capone weaves with flotsam rope and spliced line, and a delicate seashell balances on the edge of Mystery Knot. The nautical references in Think of Seashells are potent and undeniable, but they evoke seascapes from a collectively accessible memory, rather than specific places. Exact locations aren’t revealed, nor should they be. The experience of these weavings derives strength from ambiguity. Capone’s found materials conjure the image of an artist at sea, but also a human in flux, in constant motion. Pastels in creamy pink and muted purple evoke a gently rocking vessel at sunset. The braided polyester Dacron in Body Weight is a brilliant, deep-sea blue arching deeply against light cotton. Night Fog, tucked away in the gallery’s back room, feels like a cool sigh after a long night. The composition of black, cream and electric blue is a departure from the palette of the rest of the show, and the weaving’s physical separation from the other works helps it function as a pause or ending.
The show’s Neptunian feeling may have been overwhelming if not for the surprise of Small Works 1-20, a series of scaled-down weavings comprised of a wide variety of materials like plastic tubing, metallic thread, straw, wool and tissue. Here, Capone establishes a sense of immediacy. These works are the most gratifying and exciting investigations of place. Displayed in a grid format, the collection suggests a form of conceptual map-making. This installation choice invited me to mentally travel to each weaving site while remaining rooted in one spot. I began to create stories between weavings; they became paths or resting places. Their shapes are abstractly topographical, with curves and valleys implying use of varied looms.
From a distance, Capone’s large tapestries are a gentle swim of color akin to an Agnes Martin painting. Up close, they become a complex language system. In Safety Knot 1 and Safety Knot 2, hand-dyed nylon lines cut back and forth through muted planes of color. Historically Capone has been inspired by boustrophedon, a type of ancient bi-directional text, translated from Ancient Greek as “ox-turning.” This writing style naturally mimics the movement of a woven line. As they are all approximately the same size, the large tapestries feel like blown-up versions of the smaller, notebook-sized weavings. Considering the Safety Knot works through the lens of a bi- directional text, I’m left wondering how to “read” these weavings. Their connection to place seems largely derived from the thick nylon lines, but their size is bodily, and I ponder for a moment the smooth back-and-forth motion my body would make at the loom if I were creating such pieces. When considered as an extension of, or response to, the body in motion, the Safety Knot tapestries are successful; they recall a long history of associations between the tactility of textile and the body.
In Woven Places: a Poem, which accompanies the woven work, Capone writes, It is me in the far away place, roots dug up / knots untethered, reaching to take hold. / Think of roots, reaching for water, / arm over arm, until there is a tangle. Printed on iridescent paper and zig-zag stitched, the poem’s visual design is informed by Capone’s skilled navigation of the casually ethereal.
Capone’s continued dedication to generating written work along with her weavings helps ground the viewer in her systemized way of thinking. In this poem, she observes connections between object and environment, thread and vein, your heart and my heart. Her method of working is also further revealed here. Later in the poem, she writes, Collect objects that surround you, / and weave them into a new thing. / The object is built in layers, weft over weft, / forms a physical sense of place and / representation of time and Touch the woven object / to feel the place again.
These connections ask the viewer to consider the woven works as journal entries, historical records or heralds of upcoming change. Like boustrophedon, they can be read backwards or forwards, evocative of past, future, or present. Propped against one wall are a series of palm-sized weavings encased in plexiglass. The weavings are displayed with guides that help illuminate a translation process between a body of text (in one instance, Shakespeare’s Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? sonnet) and a resulting weaving. Certain words appear to be assigned colors according to an existing code, and a gridded color drawing mirrors the design of the final weaving; these small drawings recall Anni Albers’ careful textile design plans. The delicate nature of the woven works, protected by plexiglass, creates an artifactual feel, as if they’ve been excavated directly from Shakespeare’s era. These works are displayed alongside Capone’s Weaving Language II: Language is image, paper, code and cloth, which elaborates on her study of textile poetics through a dually historical and contemporary lens. The book, as well as the works, suggests the power of textiles as a record-keeping tool.
Think of Seashells also comes in tandem with the launch of Capone's most recent book, Woven Places. The first section of the book offers high-resolution photographs of the small woven works she created on location; the reader is given more details on materials used and when and where the weaving was made. The additional information feels appropriate here, where the weavings are treated as archival objects. One favorite, woven in Joseph, Oregon, combines Wallowa County Cheiftan newspaper strips with polyester cord and wool. The second half of Woven Places is an evocative arrangement of photographs, state park brochures, jotted notes and other collage elements. A fully artistically resolved journal of inspiration and documentation, these pages offer some of the strongest imagery supporting Capone’s investigation into place.
When considering Capone’s emphasis on the role of language in her work, her titles cannot be ignored. Each title is accompanied by prose offering further perspective. For instance, Mystery Knot in its entirety is Mystery Knot (Vernal birthright, melt of snow and winds of springtime, tumbling saltspray roses on the dunes.) The first part of the title encourages the viewer to focus on the found knot centered on the tapestry; against the subtle backdrop of pastels, it commands attention. Reading the prose, however, creates a visual narrative that then comes to life in the tapestry. A field of iridescent white is a melt of snow. Pinks and purples become winds and roses. The tapestry itself becomes a place, or a place-in-translation.
Taking a final look at Scallop, I imagined slowly unwinding it, the feel of the rope in my hands and slipping through my fingers, the dense weight of it in water. I was struck by the realization that the piece had immediately transported me back to the dock on Orcas Island. As predicted in Capone’s poem, I had touched the woven object to feel the place again.
Think of Seashells is on view at Nationale through November 13, 2018.
Images courtesy of Nationale. Photography by Mario Gallucci.