Tea bags, old paper receipts and solitary blades of grass may seem unusual choices for art materials, but to Nichole Salimbene, they transform into totems linking our cerebral monologues to the world around us. Currently on view at Studio Gallery, the Takoma Park-based artist’s solo exhibition Protection | Devotion | Earth mines the divine from the detritus of our daily existence.
All six large-scale works channel our investigation of materiality with almost religious undertones, using scapulars as their point of departure. In Catholicism, scapulars are devotional items worn across the shoulder, often containing small charms or images, serving as reminders of faith. In Salimbene’s hands, they take on more metaphysical notes, suggesting that reflections of mysticism can be found in the most unlikely sources. Consumer Protection (2013) features a web of scapulars using crinkled, discarded receipts in place of pious imagery. Marred and marked over, only fragments of words remain visible, but those words—“love”, “redemption”, “tender”—shine new contexts onto the idea of consumerism. Far beyond a tongue-in-cheek critique of our shopping habits, the work gently questions how the impulse to shop satiates our need to feel secure and comforted.
Every Blade of Grass (2015) mines a similar vein of inquiry, displaying an almost pious reverence for the natural world. The scapulars’ totems are individual blades of grass and other botanicals, but here Salimbene forms the scapulars’ shape not from traditional cloth but glass microscope slides. The precious objects both capture the fragility of the earth and posit that even science itself can function on a seemingly spiritual level. Compassion (2016) tugs at the heartstrings of memory, with tea bags whose wafting scents trigger our nostrils just as much as our eyes.
There is a feeling of comfort in the repetition displayed throughout the room. Each work, though composed of different elements, conforms to a similar visual pattern of interwoven lines and rectangles. The artist’s fascination with materiality is plainly evident; you can almost picture her fingers stitching, pinning and toying tenderly with each object. Individual elements vibrate, as if wishing to take flight off the (literally) blank canvas to which they are affixed. That sculptural element of her work remains largely untapped, suggesting new avenues of investigation for further pieces in this series.
Protection | Devotion | Earth runs through January 30, 2016 at the Studio Gallery in Washington, DC. For more details, visit their website here.