One of the perennial delights of Tacoma's art world is the work of Holly A. Senn, an installation artist and sculptor who generally uses discarded library books as her raw material. Unloved and worn out books are taken in by Senn who lovingly uses their pages at the skin for sculptures that are often derived from organic forms. This is part of her grand project to explore the life cycle of ideas.
Her most recent exhibit is a case in point. Called “Composites,” and just unveiled in the Woolworth Windows at S. 11th and Broadway downtown, the exhibit features enlarged versions of buds, blossoms and fruits that are composed of chopped up and recombined pages of old library books.
The backdrop for each three-dimensional form is a digitally altered, color photograph that is enlarged and printed on canvas. Senn used botanical photos provided by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York. Her paper forms are extensions of the photos – projecting out of the surface. Thus, Senn's spherical arrangement of azalea flowers juts out from a closeup, fuzzy photo of purple azalea flowers. The white paper sculptures stand out starkly against their colorful backgrounds.
Senn's use of book pages as the outer coating of her work is both decorative and meaningful. The lines of script, taken out of context and set askew, become abstract and each letter becomes like a pointillist dot on a surface. Yet, as one views the organic surfaces more closely, individual words present themselves to consciousness so that impromptu poems bubble up. Dry old books that were closed and mute are now broken open to sing songs both silly and profound.
For the darker casing at the base of her Eastern redbud, Senn used what appear to be illustrations from old art history texts. Celebrated classical statues can be discerned in the leafy nub of the bud.
Elements for “Composites” were originally made for an installation called “Windows on nature and Knowledge” that Senn did for the Brooklyn Public Library in 2009. She drew inspiration from the elaborate nature dioramas that she encountered at New York's natural history museum.
“Composites” in the Woolworth Windows is intended to synchronize with the May 5 opening of the Tacoma farmer's market. “Tacoma farmer's market,” Senn states, “brings a composite of plants, people and ideas to Broadway. Separate and distinct, they converge to become one market place.”
Senn is a part-time librarian at Pacific Lutheran University and is originally from California. She has lived in Tacoma for a decade now.
Senn's installation is on view in the Woolworth Windows until July 1. For further information on Senn's art visit her well-conceived website at www.ryksenn.com.