On view through February 2nd, Seed Scattering is a solo exhibition of eleven collage tapestries by DC-based artist Nicole Salimbene. Created by rolling magazine pages and binding them together with gold wire, these highly polished collage tapestries look right at home in the lobby of the Silva, a recently constructed luxury apartment building. The space, a publicly accessible permanent collaboration with Latela Curatorial, highlights the work of artists from the DC region. While a ritzy apartment building may not be the first place one looks for cutting edge art exhibitions, Seed Scattering is a thoughtful and accomplished show that breathes new life into the arts landscape of DC and is well worth the trip.
The theme of seed scattering is apt for work that hides and reveals cues for meaning. In the exhibition catalogue, Salimbene gives us an idea of the intended reference of her practice and use of materials in this body of work:
“Birds have been scattering seeds in me for a while now…This year winged creatures entered my dreams. In that unconscious landscape, the seeds started to crack open. This work is the sprouting and hopefully seeding of a collective conversation with birds. It is my human response to their birdsong, to their planting.”
– Nicole Salimbene
As refined as the work may appear, the shiny magazine pages and gold wire present a narrative that seems to shift, remaining incomplete. Salimbene plays with suggestion, reference and association rather than putting forth a fully formed thesis. Pieces of words and pictures weave together like a puzzle that has been fully assembled with all the pieces in the wrong place. The artist leaves the task of making sense of it all to the viewer, scattering hints just as the birds have done before her.
Still, Salimbene makes clever use of sufficient consistency to thread together what may seem like disparate themes. The collage tapestries are uniform in size, and each one is given a poetic title with the name of a bird in parentheses. Each piece is visually correlated with the bird species she references–patches of white, red, and black for the woodpecker; warm shades of blush, white and gray for the mourning doves; bright yellow with patches of black for the goldfinch. Beyond color, the compositions are largely abstracted from the form of the bird, hinting at their playful energy. The one exception is I do, I undo, I redo” (phoenix), which is startlingly figurative compared to its counterparts.
By referring to her works as tapestries, Salimbene is intentionally masquerading work made of paper and wire as textile. When one thinks of a tapestry, one thinks of complexity, richness, and narrative potential. Salimbene’s use of this word in this context is not merely descriptive but ascriptive; she is reminding us that materials and form are far from neutral and each carries its own implied meaning. By corralling excerpts of text and images from everyday objects and weaving them into a storytelling format, she is restoring a sense of order, reversing the seed scattering act. Playfully, the artist asks us to consider if there might be meaning culled from what is ostensibly random.
A standout of the show is With a thousand smiles she gives to me (bluebird). A striking patch of blue interrupts softly undulated hues of earthy greens and browns, capturing not only the most obvious physical characteristic of the bluebird, but also its energy. While other pieces in the show are compositionally subdued, the strong patch of blue is a breath of fresh air.
Any viewer who visits the show will find the information provided in the exhibition catalogue to be deeply enriching to their experience; reference photographs, poems, sketchbook collages, and works of art by other artists weave their own tapestry that enriches Salimbene’s work and makes productive use of the digital space. This laboring of ours with all that remains undone (swans), for example, was born out of Salimbene’s 2019 trip to Utah where she witnessed the migration of thousands of swans. Inspired by their physical form as well as their practice to mate for life, Salimbene created a diptych of soft white hues that reveal images of eyes, fingers, trees, and nests.
The title of the piece comes from The Swan, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that expresses the struggle of life and respite in death by describing a swan easing itself into water. Interestingly, Salimbene chooses a translation of the poem that uses the word laboring, while another popular translation by Robert Bly reads “this clumsy living that moves lumbering / as if in ropes through what is not done.” Laboring as opposed to clumsy living feels more specific to Salimbene, considering her highly labor-intensive artistic process. These details gleaned from the catalogue reveal the full range of referential significance contained in each piece.
Absent the catalogue, the work on its own may yield a variety of different interpretations, as hundreds of magazine pages present an almost overwhelming amount of visual information — but it is made much richer and more intentional with context. As a whole, the show holds true to its promise of planting the seeds of ideas and inspiration; now, it waits for viewers to participate in the cycle of exchange, forming the connections and insight that will truly bring it to life.
Seed Scattering is on view at The Silva Gallery x Latela Curatorial at 1630 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009
through February 4, 2024 Extended to Sunday, February 25.
The gallery is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10am through 5pm and Sundays from noon until 5pm. More information is available online here.
The catalogue can be easily viewed and downloaded from the Latela Curatorial website here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1MPJaYvupsDSpeSnK87KIO3YgjEkvMmy4/view