Oliver Coley, our summer intern from Smith College, wrote the following reaction to our current Cianna Valley solo exhibition at WPG. Valley was the grand prize winner of last year’s National Small Works exhibition, and as such, has her own solo show this year.
I first encountered Cianna Valley’s work as I was unpacking the prints for the National Small Works show. Her work was meticulously packed, with multiple smaller packages within each large box, and individually labeled with the letters CV and then a number. As I began opening each package, it became clear that her meticulous nature did not end with the way her work was packaged. Each of her works was filled with tremendous amounts of minutia, serving as windows into the detailed world of her figures.As I checked off each of her works, one by one, I would stop and stare at each print; mesmerized by the hanging fabrics and nets draped around the rooms, and captivated by the miniature possessions that filled the shelves and clustered atop the tables. One work that particularly fascinated me was “Not the Center of the Universe or the Gateway to the Cosmos.” This etching and aquatint presents to the viewer a portion of three connected rooms. Through a large square window in the first room a white figure hangs partially out of a bathtub, with what appears to be a cluster of flowering trees in the background. The bathtub itself resembles the old claw-footed tubs found in times of old, but with the clawed feet replaced by human hands holding up each corner. Beneath the window is a mirror, reflecting the hands of the woman at the bottom of the print, crouching down upon one of the rugs. This first room is filled with rectangular mirrors, each reflecting small portions of their surroundings. The light in the rooms seem dim, but strings of lights hanging from the ceiling give the piece a glowing quality. What is most alluring about this print is not the immense amount of detail, but the way the rooms are positioned at an angle, drawing your eye into the life-like space.
I did not think another print could possibly be more meticulous than that print until I unwrapped the set of egg shell sculptures. “Remnants from an Origin Myth I” and “Remnants from an Origin Myth II” are both long shadowboxes filled with small fragile eggs. Each egg has a lace-lined oval opening at the front, allowing you to peek in and admire the scene made from tiny cut out pieces of Valley’s prints. At the top of the second sculpture, three hands emerge from behind a red paper curtain. Beneath the first egg, layers of green plants surround a hand emerging from a plaque cut from the previous print, and various bottles and cans book-end what seems to be a small religious figurine. Each egg shell is unique, and having looked at all of her other prints, it is quite clear where the paper pieces have come from. My favorite egg is one with a set of shins ending in two feet with pale pink toenails, hovering about a cluster of dripping candles. The world created by the layered cut-outs, all having been plucked from their own separate scenes, is absolutely surreal. I admire Valley’s work for her impressive technique and detailed nature, but also for the whimsy in her titles and the way her works invite us into a portion of her world.