At first glance, Lauren Fensterstock and Lecturer of Art John Bisbee make an unlikely artistic pair. She fashions fragile, black paper flowers; he crafts bold abstract forms from metal spikes. She uses the centuries-old quilling technique popular among Renaissance nuns; he hammers, welds and bends iron into submission. Fensterstock's pieces—highly-detailed terrariums—are encased behind glass; Bisbee's spikes jut into space, even threatening unobservant ankles in the case of "Charge 2," a floor piece.
"That's the beauty in it: there's an incredible contrast, and, at the same time, there's a familiarity between the two," said Will Sears, who works at Aucocisco, the Portland gallery currently showing Bisbee's and Fensterstock's new work.
The darkness of the both artists' work unifies the exhibition, and the viewer becomes caught up in the conversation between the delicate paper curls and massive nails, drifting between the organic and industrial.
The affinity between the two artists lies deeper than their dusky palette, however. Both artists engage with the tension between the natural and the man-made. Fensterstock's flowers are crafted manually through a painstaking process, and while the forms are natural, the craftsmanship that created them complicates our reading of them. Fensterstock's media, paper and charcoal (she uses the later for soil), also contribute to the fascinating friction: they are nature post-human-processing, plants that are no longer living.
Bisbee works with similar themes, taking a material typically used to create order and resist the elements (as in the construction of houses and shelters) and introduces irregularity, erratic, entropic shapes, and graceful, natural curves.
"I've been looking forward to this for years," said Bisbee of showing with Fensterstock, whom Bisbee has known for over a decade. Bowdoin may remember Fensterstock best for her stunning 2008 installation in the art museum that featured a vast, inky black pool filled with quilled flora.
The work on view at Aucocisco is characterized by a new direction in Bisbee's sculpture: it is the first time he has "violated the cylinder," crimping and creasing the nails that comprise his work.
"If you use the same material for 25 years, you have to do something different," he said.
"Wool," a wall piece featuring four tiers of vertical spikes, was the first piece Bisbee made using the new technique. The apt title perfectly captures the effect: the conversion of hard, highly regular metal into fibrous, natural-feeling strands.
"It's always wonderful when you can take the industrial and rotate it into the organic," Bisbee said.