Tacoma’s Holly Senn is a serious artist. She is hardworking, well organized, consistent and devoted to fine craftsmanship. This librarian-turned-artist works almost exclusively with the delicate and ephemeral medium of paper: recycled library books specifically. Decommissioned books are cut, ripped and rendered into new objects. Senn is deeply interested in exploring the life cycle of ideas. The use of pages from old books is as symbolic as it is practical. The humble, readily available material of her work is covered in disjointed fragments of the printed word. Pages that once conveyed narratives and coherent thoughts are now pulled apart so that the printed word becomes something decorative, if ancillary, to the new uses to which they are put.
Senn is mainly interested in organic forms found in nature. Much of her work is made as part of grand installations. The production of individual, durable art objects for sale to collectors in a gallery is not her main focus. Senn is true to her pursuit of manifesting beautiful, momentary ideas.
Prolific in the production of her art, Senn’s shows and installations appear in both Tacoma and Portland at regular intervals. University of Puget Sound’s wonderful Kittredge Gallery is the latest venue in which art viewers have an opportunity to see her work. The present show, entitled “Scavenged,” is the result of Senn’s fascination with the variety of nests that birds build. UPS’s Slater Museum of Natural History includes a large collection of bird nests. Senn selected examples of these and set about the task of replicating them using her stockpile of old books. The actual nests that served as her inspiration accompany the exhibit so that the viewer can compare the work of the bird to that of the artist. Senn often makes her paper nests larger in order to explore and exhibit their structure and form.
As one examines Senn’s paper nests, the eye can’t help but pick out random sentence fragments or individual words that remain on the paper. On “Song Sparrow,” for example, one can read “mockery of him…,” “problems come too fast…,” “social operations…,” “logical differences…” Such random scraps retained by the material make Senn’s nests into repositories of dada poetry.
A trio of enlarged “Cliff Swallow” nests is made with wads of paper in mimicry of the wads of mud used by the swallows. Inspection of these reveals that one book used was printed in Chinese, one in German and one in English.
A trio of “Black Bird” nests dangles from the ceiling like small tornados woven of tangled strips of paper.
Senn’s exhibit occupies Kittredge’s so-called “small gallery.” In the large gallery is a show of screen prints by Randy Bolton, head of the print media department at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art. Bolton uses nostalgic, storybook images and ads a new, often sinister twist in order to jolt the viewer out of his or her comfort zone. His use of color is scrumptious. In this jaded era, however, attempts at the old switcheroo as a shock device are old hat. The images are more amusing than shocking: as in a scene in which the proverbial fox catches up to the gingerbread man only to find a cannibal scene of the gingerbread man already feasting on a pair of his fellows.
Senn’s “Scavenged” and the Bolton prints are on display through Nov. 9. For further information visit http://www.pugetsound.edu/about/campus--the-northwest/places-spaces/kittredge-gallery/ or call (253) 879-3701.