Walking into Overlap, the new show by Hildur Bjarnadottir, you immediately encounter 16 framed pencil drawings. Depicting loops and balloon shapes that pinwheel around an originating point, these "Lasso Drawings" look like they could have been made with a primitive version of a Spirograph. Across the gallery, a silent, black-and-white video loop presents Will Rogers riding across an expanse of desert, as he effortlessly twirls a lasso around his galloping horse. Seeing the rope hover around horse and rider, halo-like, creates a hypnotic effect—at once suspended and in motion. But it also provides a common thread, that functions like the lasso itself, to tie the show together.
Bjarnadottir often works in embroidery and tatting, processes that employ simple, repetitive actions—the looping and knotting of a strand of thread. Thus, the process and materiality of her textile works is represented graphically in the drawings, conceptually in the Will Rogers loop, and, of course, in the things themselves. The dimensionality of this presentation makes Overlap satisfyingly coherent and intelligently constructed, but the underwhelming visual impact of pieces like a blank canvas and painted ginghams steal some of its thunder. Absent is the edge and menace of "Untitled (Skulls)," an elaborate doily that culminates in a perimeter of crocheted cotton skulls, which earned her the Juror's Award at 2001's Oregon Biennial.
But even in this laconic and challenging show, there's ample evidence of Bjarnadottir's strengths, as her use of traditional textiles unravels notions of clearly defined gender roles and decorative craft as a "low" art form. In "Frippery," she has stitched tiny yellow and green mounds of velvet into a tablecloth, as if moss has gathered on the fabric—and the antiquated notion that the domestic sphere is exclusively reserved for women. The three tiny porcelain statuettes of Bjarnadottir's grandmothers bore further into the issue. Are the cracks that trace the surfaces of these figurines an approximation of their subjects' wrinkles, a result of working in porcelain, or the hairline cracks in a society that has molded women into a restricted set of roles? JOHN MOTLEY