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Taking Flight 

Is nature dead? Has it been co-opted by technology to such an extent that it barely exists at all? Don't bet on it; no matter how it may look through the tinted windows of your SUV, nature can only be pushed so far. Invent a super antibiotic and one day you end up with a totally resistant super bug. Build better air conditioning and soon global warming turns up the heat on a planetary scale.

And so it goes. Yet, even with such ecological thoughts in mind, Sibylle Peretti's new work can seem baffling. Beautiful, yes, but enigmatic as well. What's with all those bees? They may not be obvious at first, but they are everywhere. You may have to look twice because much of this is executed in glass, Plexiglas and bronze, and the rendering can be subtle, or even abstract.

Beyond the bees, Peretti also continues to work with images of children taken from antique German pediatric texts transposed through various media into her own sublimely calm and quiet presences. In their original form, they often displayed afflictions and deformities, but in her hands they become "healed" in the sense that their innocent auras are what we see rather than any physical irregularities.

It is said that the psyche, the unconscious or dreaming mind, is the last refuge of nature in the world of man. In Peretti's work, wild nature and the nature of the psyche come together, as we see in works such as Dreamer, in which the head of a sleeping child appears almost as if floating, his body covered by a blanket. A serpentine line of winged creatures seems to parade before his closed eyes in a line stretching from his hand to somewhere outside the frame. Bees. What are they doing there? Logically, this makes no sense, but the effect is indeed dreamlike, imbued with the same delicately otherworldly tone that permeates all of these works. And here it must be said that tone -- perhaps the most easily overlooked, yet utterly crucial element in any work of art -- is everything.

In Bienenkuss, which means something like "bee kiss," a child, head bowed, faces an enormous bee. His torso is like a honeycomb, as is the crown of the head. The bee's mandibles are outstretched toward his lips, and it's a scene that should be about as reassuring as a still from some 1950s horror movie, yet in Peretti's work the effect is touching, gentle, mythic in the most uplifting sense. Perhaps that is because bees have good karma. Sure, they can sting, but they can also cooperate, having been cultivated for their honey for centuries. Associated with flowers and sunshine, they are organized and efficient, and, from a human perspective, more beneficial than harmful. In these works, Peretti employs them as reminders of nature's mystery, its power to heal, as well as its potential for beauty.

Beyond the pervasively dreamlike tone, Peretti's work is also noteworthy for its delicacy, a proclivity for finely woven baroque filigree amid the diaphanous white light of blown, cast and etched glass and Plexi. Honey Shirt is a tunic so loosely knit it looks like it might have been woven by spiders. Little amber beads cling to the threads like droplets of honey, and here the tunic is a metaphor for the body, and the honey, actually resin, suggests the mysteriously fluid and elusive nature of the life force. Balancing all that is the pervasive form of the hexagon, the shape of the cells that make up the honeycomb. Honey Child I features a standing child contained in a mosaic of hexagonal etched plexi like so many translucent tiles on the wall. Flowering vines and linked chains of little hexagons cover their surface, so the piece suggests a faerie child of the forests as well as a molecule, a purposeful cluster of atoms. New Orleans Magnolias is like a veil of flowers in a daisy-chain mesh of Japanese magnolia blossoms that also recalls the spiraling forms of DNA molecules. In these works, the inexplicable assumes form through transformation, as the processes of healing and creation play out in the psyche and in the flesh, weaving a splendid new tapestry from the small, the overlooked and imperfect things that we are so inclined to take for granted.

click to enlarge Works such as Sybille Peretti's Dreamer, with its exploration of the psyche as a place of refuge, show once again that tone is everything.
  • Works such as Sybille Peretti's Dreamer, with its exploration of the psyche as a place of refuge, show once again that tone is everything.
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