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Rainbows Inside the Museum

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 35, 2016, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH. Photo: Andrew Weber.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 35, 2016, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH. Photo: Andrew Weber.

By Claire Fenton

Mexican artist Gabriel Dawe’s “Project Atrium” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville seems to freeze time. Using miles of polyester sewing thread, Dawe suspends a prism of colors in mid-air through a series of hooks attached to the walls and ceiling. The installation creates the effect that the atrium windows above are projecting a constant indoor rainbow below, but it is a result of thousands of strands of multicolored thread dissolve into shimmering saturated hues.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 24, 2013, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 24, 2013, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX.

“This color mist alludes to a symbolic quest to materialize light,” the artist says, “to give it density, so that I can offer the viewer an approximation of things otherwise inaccessible to us-a glimmer of hope that brings us closer to the transcendent, to show that there can be beauty in this messed up world we live in.”

It is this reference to beauty in Dawe’s work that captivated curator Jaime DeSimone. “I’ve followed Gabriel’s work for a while now, but it wasn’t until I experienced it in person at the Renwick Gallery’s “WONDER” exhibition that I knew we had to bring him to Jacksonville,” she says.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus C18, 2016, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the San Antonio Airport, in collaboration with Blue Star Contemporary and Public Arts San Antonio, San Antonio, TX.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus C18, 2016, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the San Antonio Airport, in collaboration with Blue Star Contemporary and Public Arts San Antonio, San Antonio, TX.

“The ‘Project Atrium’ series continues to be one of MOCA Jacksonville’s signature programs,” says MOCA director Caitlín Doherty. “We’re delighted to receive the exceptional support from the National Endowment for the Arts that further solidifies the museum’s passion for working with emerging and midcareer artists, like Gabriel, who asks us to pause, contemplate and imagine a rainbow.”

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 33, 2016, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Amarillo Museum of Art, Amarillo, TX.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 33, 2016, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Amarillo Museum of Art, Amarillo, TX.

The title of the new work, Plexus No. 38, derives from the word’s definition: a network of nerves or vessels in the body. It’s one of a series of site-specific works Dawe has installed throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. “It was the perfect name, because it not only refers to the connection of the body with its environment, but it also relates directly to the intricate network of threads forming the installation itself, and to the tension inherent in the thread, vibrating with an almost tangible luminosity,” the artist explains.

In the “Plexus” series, Dawe explores the human needs for shelter and protection, represented by architecture and fashion. Both are used to address physical, psychological and emotional vulnerability. Through the use of thread, the core component of clothing, he creates a structure within the scale of a protective space. “By reversing scale and material to create an actual structure made of thread, the sheltering quality goes through a transformation, from protecting the body on a physical level to soothing the human spirit in a subtle yet powerful way.”

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, 2015, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Courtesy Conduit Gallery. Photo: Ron Blunt.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, 2015, multicolored thread, site-specific installation at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Courtesy Conduit Gallery. Photo: Ron Blunt.

As a child growing up in Mexico City, Dawe longed to learn the hand embroidery his grandmother was teaching his sister, but he didn’t dare ask her because he was a boy. As he got older, he bristled against traditional gender roles, especially the machismo of Western culture, and found ways to express his desires outside normal social constructs that often rule our everyday lives.

The “Plexus” works induce a sort of vertigo by disturbing the viewer’s depth perception through the repeated succession of lines in three-dimensional patterns. They approximate the way our eyes perceive rainbows: transparent, fuzzy, part reality, part illusion. The works create a hypnotic parallax that must be experienced in person to appreciate the full sensorial experience.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 35, 2016, site-specific installation at the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH. Photo: Andrew Weber.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus No. 35, 2016, site-specific installation at the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH. Photo: Andrew Weber.

Dawe lived in Montreal for seven years before moving to Dallas, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2011. During the last two years at UTD, he was an artist in residence at CentralTrak. Since then, he has exhibited works across the U.S., including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, as well as others in Belgium, Canada and the U.K.

Plexus No. 38 will be on view through October 29, 2017. Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville is located at 333 North Laura Street, Jacksonville, 32202 | Phone: 904 366 6911 | www.mocajacksonville.unf.edu.

Claire Fenton is an arts writer based in Jacksonville, Fla.