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Conceptual constructions: collages and sculptures by Babs Case

Ladder Teacup Chair Birdcage Rope opened with an artist’s reception for Babs Case on April 14 that was buzzing with art enthusiasts and excitement. Case, a longtime Jackson resident, is a multidisciplinary artist, choreographer, dancer and educator. Twenty-three works in all, the exhibit covered half of the Tayloe Piggott Gallery’s main display space in Jackson for the three weeks it was on view. Although the show ended May 8, the artworks are can be seen at the gallery’s website. While mostly comprised of framed, two-dimensional, mixed media collages, there was a strong sprinkling of sculptural work throughout the exhibit.
These pieces add variety and intrigue. I was immediately drawn to the lovely, white dress suspended from above, swaying with delicate movement. The red, backwards zippers (with pull tabs on the inside) run from the bodice, down the front of the skirt, suggesting that the wearer can engineer her own escape from inside the confines of this casing. The piece is aptly titled “The Way Out.”

Babs Case’s show at Tayloe Piggott Gallery featured 23 works and included a dance performance. Most of the work was mixed media collages but there was some sculptural work as well.

This dress and many of the other sculptural works are not for sale, which is a pity since they are some of my favorites. The collage works were many and varied, including some that include sculptural relief elements. The strongest, most compelling pieces among the collage works are those that have dimensionality. All include ephemera: found scraps of paper and objects arranged to create narratives.

Babs Case, “Raise Your Right Hand” Mixed media, 18 x 13 in. (Babs Case)

An examination of one such piece, “Raise Your Right Hand,” gives insight into how rich and layered are the subtleties of Case’s art and the stories they tell. This figurative collage consists of an assortment of disparate body parts. A small, rectangular photographic snapshot creates the head, a tangle of red roping delineates the neck and a boxy, black cardboard container crudely covers and stands in for the body.

Long, bare legs with pointed toes in black shoes reach down in an attempt to keep the figure grounded. A pair of small, clasped hands, without arms, covers the belly. A third hand dimensionally emerges from the background, disassociated, yet raised in unmistakable affirmation. The overall composition is balanced, but the figure is grossly out of proportion. The tiny head is awkwardly distant from the long legs and large feet. The box that makes up the torso keeps the core of the figure hidden and secret.

With “Raise Your Right Hand,” Case seems to speak of the personal challenges of social responsibility. We must overcome our reluctance if we want to take a stand on important issues. The figure is literally “boxed in.” The tightly clasped hands over the belly epitomize the agonizing reticence most of us struggle to subdue when going public with our opinions. The red rope references the tangled, tormented disconnect between head and heart. The missing arms speak of impotent helplessness. The single, raised, right hand, however, seems to act boldly of its own accord. It makes itself known despite how self-conscious and awkward the rest of the body feels.

Careful examination reveals that the tan paper behind the figure is actually a dress maker’s pattern, complete with stitch lines, alignment notches and dart indicators. All people normally function according to a predictable set of plans imposed by self and society. In this artwork the raised hand literally punches through the blueprint, challenging us to rebel against rote responses and norms that keep us quiet.

Babs Case, “Doubt vs. Knowing” Mixed media, 11 x 10 in. (Babs Case)

I appreciate this work because it so accurately conveys the aching sense of self-doubt, and hesitancy most of us feel when compelled to take a stand. Yet, act we must. The raised hand signifies hope for action taken, opinions stated, and changes instigated. Babs Case, in her artist’s statement, said she believes that artists have “the social responsibility to question the world around them and to ‘awaken’ others to do the same.” This piece most definitely does that for me.

Other favorites of mine in this show include “Ladder Rope Tea Cup Chair Birdcage” (from which the exhibit title was derived) and “Doubt vs. Knowing.” Both these pieces present puzzling juxtapositions of flat paper and 3-D objects, rich in symbolism with complex associations. Case’s attention to detail and craftsmanship is impeccable. One can spend much time with her art, and still want to learn more about it. The works speak to universal human beliefs, dreams and fears. Case clearly draws from personal experiences, yet her ideas are presented in ways that all can relate to.

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In conjunction with the exhibit, a dance performance took place May 5. Contemporary Dance Wyoming, Dancer’s Workshop’s resident professional modern dance company (which Babs Case directs) presented an in-gallery performance piece. Some of the sculptural exhibit elements (chair, tea cup, and rope) served as props for the dancers. It was a poetic and complex experience — one final overlay to complete this rich tapestry of art.

Babs Case’s Ladder Teacup Chair Birdcage Rope was on exhibit at the Tayloe Piggott Gallery in Jackson, WY April 14-May 8, 2017. Although the show is now done, the works included may be seen on the Tayloe Piggott Gallery’s website, and may also be purchased through the Gallery.

Jane Lavino has served as Curator of Art & Exhibits at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson for the past 26 years. She avidly frequents art museums and galleries wherever and whenever she can. Jane is also a veteran art educator and a printmaker. She enjoys sharing her love of art with others.

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