Deb Brod at The Carnegie

March 3rd, 2019  |  Published in Winter 2019

In The Carnegie’s Open Source series of exhibitions, Trajectory engages the gallery space with swooping arcs of fabric and fiber that weave and stretch across one corner of the large open room. Deb Brod, the artist, has mined collections of fabric handed down from her mother and grandmother as well as from her daughter and used them like a painter to create compositions of color and linework in the white-walled space. Brod’s practice is focused on sustainability; she uses scraps and snatches of repurposed fabric and loads the wall with layers that fall lightly in areas and sometimes heavily or chaotically in others. Trajectory works as a flowing timeline and was developed over a number of years on the wall of Brod’s Camp Washington studio. Curator Sarabel Santos Negrón, an artist and the director of Museo de Arte de Bayamon in Puerto Rico, chose Brod’s work for her selection of Open Source and the work at times explodes, shoots, curves and finally layers and drifts across the wall.

“Trajectory”, (Open Source 1.2), Images courtesy of The Carnegie; photo credit Rebecca Steele

The Carnegie’s Open Source is the concept of curator Matt Distel who opened up the art center’s season by inviting a team to create concurrent exhibitions that would grow and change throughout the year. For Open Source 1.1 which opened September 7, 2018, Annie Dell’Aria, Linda Schwartz, C.M. Turner and Cori Wolff joined Sarabel Santos Negrón as the curators for the first installment of shows. Sarabel Santos Negrón organized a conversation of sorts in one corner of the large first floor gallery between Brod’s work and work by Judith Scott and Mary Lee Bendolph.  Brod installed the first section of Trajectory alongside her Global Sea-Level Rise drawings. She explains that this part of Trajectory explores the first 25 years of a life and the next chapters of the work (which were installed for Open Source 1.2) make up middle and end of life. The first section widens out from a mandala of pinned tulle and brightly hued lines, early watercolor drawings of grids and snaky, skinny lines of color. The radiating panels of the tulle petticoat reminded me of the artist E.V. Day’s exploding dresses that use deconstruction as a means of exploring feminism, culture and sexuality. In the bright ebullience of Brod’s first wall, she drops in a muff of fake fur as a sly nod to the potent sensuality of youth. This first phase has so much action and agency, it feels like it is opening wide to embrace the world yet also feels contained and separate both physically and conceptually from the latter three parts.

From left to right: “Open Source 1.1”: Deb Brod, “Trajectory”, 2017, mixed media; Deb Brod, works from the series “Global Sea-level Rise”, 2018, ink on watercolor paper; Judith Scott, “Untitled”, date unknown, fiber, found objects, collection of Linda and George Kurz; Mary Lee Bendolph, “Strips Quilt”, 2010, cotton, collection of Linda and George Kurz. Images courtesy of The Carnegie; photo credit Rebecca Steele


“Trajectory”, (Detail of left side), Images courtesy of The Carnegie; photo credit Rebecca Steele

The lines of fabric in the first phase move vertically, radially and finally directionally left to right as they turn a corner on the wall and move into the most active central part of the assemblage. The grid drawings collected into the first part of the installation are from the artist’s early work as a painter, but the painter in Brod seems to transform this vocabulary into a widening warp and weft. The grid gives over to this leverage and then disperses altogether opening further into arcs and fast ascending lines that deepen with color and vibrancy in the middle phase.

“Trajectory”, (detail of center), Images courtesy of The Carnegie; photo credit Rebecca Steele

Brod’s art career began with her MFA in Painting at the University of Cincinnati in 1992 and she has exhibited widely since then, winning numerous grants while maintaining the role of Ohio Arts Council Artist in Residence with many local schools. Brod’s art making began with drawing and painting, but early on she began to incorporate other materials, primarily fibers, using them in ways that recall the fluidity and gesture of painting. Brod’s work has grown from a self-imposed sustainability, using nothing that wasn’t recycled or repurposed, and it cannot help also sparking more global themes of displacement through such a personal medium of fabric and discarded clothing. The scraps of vintage fabric, lace, belt and other materials have a dissonance and urgency to their rhythm especially in the second and third movement of the installation. Christian Boltanski, another artist who uses clothing as a medium to speak about mortality, seems like a spectral presence here. Birth, life, and death move with insistence; a sense of giddiness  compels us through the work. This may be the artist’s own feeling of compression at middle life as she finds herself holding the cord of time between herself, the future and the past. Trajectory is pushing us forward while also inviting us to pause and examine small relationships of space and form. The crescendo happens in the third phase where lines of color seem to stretch and reach ever higher on the gallery wall and ultimately break and begin a slower shuffle forward. Both rhythm and color themes begin to change and grow softer and less vibrant. More sheer fabrics are used and begin to drift up and over each other. The color palette moves from deep violets, reds and oranges in the middle to neutral greys, blacks and beiges in the final section. The fabric arcs build momentum again, slower this time as it makes one last swell upwards into space.

–Alice Pixley Young is an artist and art educator living and working in Cincinnati, OH.

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