Virginia Fleck: Consumed
Holly Johnson Gallery
Through March 26, 2011
The convenient, ubiquitous and often despised plastic bag glows in the spotlights of Virginia Fleck’s Consumed at Holly Johnson Gallery. Fleck’s mandala collages and prints vibrate with super-saturated colors and patterns so vivid they almost hurt the eye. These highly decorative works take on a new significance when you look closer at their component parts – thousands of plastic bags from locations across the country and world. The works swirl with taped-together brand names, cartoon characters, safety warnings and pleas to recycle. Though the idea of creating art from trash is certainly not a new one, Fleck’s work may speak in a new way about the role of consumerism in our society.
All of the works within the main gallery (whether collages or prints) include “Mandala” in their title and repeat a circular form. The word “mandala” may bring to mind a vague idea of stylized circular designs, but mandalas have a specific and important role as meditation aids in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Fleck has created symbols of spiritual depth and self-consciousness from advertising, a shallow medium that is often used to manipulate our unconscious minds. Assuming that most visitors to Consumed are not Buddhists or Hindus, the mandalas become only a vague symbol of foreign spirituality. The combination of spirituality (however foreign) and consumer waste is a charged one, and we are left to wonder about Fleck’s intent. Has our consumerist nature been wrongly elevated to a spiritual level or have we been able to see the divine in our detritus?
Consumed is on the surface a bright and beautiful collection of works whose tone doesn’t hint at the grim subjects it addresses. The mandalas show a consideration for color harmony with their strict arrangement and layering of plastic. Flowers and circles cover the works like sprinkles on cupcakes. It becomes clear that the craft and transformation of ordinary materials into extraordinary work are some of her central motivations for creating these pieces. Any environmental or cultural statements that are perceived within the mandalas are overshadowed by her love of the material process of creating these works.
Fleck’s Consumed falls short of communicating a clear message, but in doing so it may more clearly reflect the nature of our current situation. We may have aspirations to be less consumerist and more green, but in the end we are hopelessly possessed by the love of material things.