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Fixing an Engine with a Hairpin

Written by Meg Shiffler, Director of Visual Art, Consolidated Works

May, 2000

It's midnight and I'm gently swinging inside of Sheila Klein's Float Zone #3, suspended from our 35' ceiling. Wrapped in the golden light that illuminates the inside of the cocoon, I feel safe and peaceful. To my left is a fortress - black, sleek and slightly imposing. To my right is a graceful, glowing "hammock" and a ruffled mousehole. From this drifting vantage point a group of curvaceous sleeping bags appear to be migrating east across the cracked cement floor.

Sheila is one of those rare individuals who always sees potential, viewing both intimate and public spaces as infinitely malleable. In the past she has dressed environments though the application of sculptural elements. With this body of work it is clear that she has moved into constructing her own sacred spaces to be experienced from the inside out. Sheila's work is about transformation - about transforming space and about creating a transformative intimate experience.

Klein has transformed the warehouse gallery at Seattle's Consolidated Works into a regal yet fantastically playful campsite. The works are line drawings realized in large-scale three-dimensionality. Stand is a 14' tall fortress made of interlocking black spandex pant forms. This piece is dignified but escapes Richard Serra-like austerity though the tenuous and slightly silly interaction of having to walk between the pant legs to enter into the center. Three luminous warm-toned tents, Float Zone 1, 2, and 3, hang from the ceiling at the center of the exhibition reflecting the strong negative space in Stand. Although womb-like and gentle there is a potent juxtaposition to the feminine in the macho fabric choice of nylon football jersey. xxchip is a graceful wedge that rocks from side to side on a curved aluminum frame covered in suntan-toned pantyhose nylon. It is unsettling, and intimate in spite of it's mammoth size. Mousehole tips the frame of xxchip on it's side and covers the frame with silver ruffles inviting viewers to enter into a well defined proscenium. Finally a series of five space-age sleeping bags create a floor pattern at the back of the space that jars the exhibition with random placement in the midst of precisely positioned pieces.

In the 1980's and the early 1990's Sheila decided to dress the world, and proceeded to do so in gallery exhibitions and public works across the country. A giant necklace of blinking streetlights, presented as a wedding gift to the Statue of Liberty, was positioned outside Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas as part of Antoni Miralda's well publicized project in which he married the Statue of Liberty to a statue in Barcelona of Christopher Columbus. Commemorative Ground Ring was commissioned by Sculpture Chicago in 1989 and incorporated familiar architectural elements from the city's urban landscape as part of the "gemstone". The whole notion of architectural jewelry applies a humanistic and primarily feminine trait to the urban landscape and defies herself as a crusader against the banality and homogenization and the resulting works as "femmetech: "Kind of like fixing an engine with a hairpin."

For the last eight years Sheila has been designing the Hollywood/Highland Metro Station, near Graumman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles with the architecture firm Dworsky Associates. Sheila named the stationUnderground Girl. Subway trains float down long, round-ribbed tubes, letting passengers out in a concrete and metal womb. Fleshy pink light fixtures cast soft pools on the ceiling, and repetitive architectural elements step in curved motion down the platform. The station is not a box that's been dressed. Underground Girl was designed from the beginning, (with architects known for creating conservative, corporate structures no less) to offer passengers the experience of metamorphosis, entering a cocoon-like structure before rising to the city.

Consolidated Works' exhibition, like Underground Girl, involved an opportunity for viewers to not only observe the works, but also to literally crawl inside of them, activating the participation. Within the yellow folds of Float Zone #3 my meditative state is broken by squeals and giggles coming from the maroon interior of Float Zone #2. Sheila would be pleased to know that the breadth of her accomplishments in the art, architecture and design communities, and twenty-five years of cumulative effort has resulted in simple responses of joy.

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