The works in Alicia Piller’s St. Louis-focused “Unearthed: Time Keeping Mound City” collectively read like a free-range kaleidoscope.
That exhibition from Piller, a Los Angeles-based artist, runs another two-plus weeks, till Oct. 23, in the Staenberg Gallery at Craft Alliance in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood.
Stefanie Kirkland, who serves as the organization’s deputy director and who both oversees its exhibition program and curates its gallery, explains what, specifically, inspired Craft Alliance to offer this opportunity to Piller.
“I saw Alicia’s work at the Craft Contemporary [a nonprofit, non-collecting arts museum] in Los Angeles,” Kirkland says. “She was teaching a teen workshop, and I was immediately enthralled with her work and took a deeper dive.
“I learned that she was using so many materials and techniques that are based in craft and thought that she’d be a great artist to bring to our new home in the Delmar Maker District. She’s really pushing the boundaries of craft materials in an exciting way.”
From that initial assessment, Kirkland further reflects about opening a dialogue with Piller.
“Her art practice is centered around how we live on this planet and how fossils and plant life continue to grow around us as we move across the land and build civilizations,” she says. “She approaches her work through her training in anthropology and studies America through a social-political lens.
“After being invited to have a solo show in St. Louis, she was finally able to examine a city as an object, really homing in on how we built our culture … This was something she was thinking very hard about, and [Piller] was looking for the opportunity to dive into a city. As a native-born Chicagoan, she was excited to study the Midwest.”
Kirkland and Piller collaborated closely on filling the Staenberg, the former relates. “She typically works really large, and this was a challenge for her,” Kirkland says. “Considering shipping limitations and narrative, she focused on wall works.
“There are 12 pieces in the show, some that are intimate and only 2 feet big to some that are as large as 7 to 8 feet tall. All the pieces are in order and take you on a journey from when this city was under [the] sea to Cahokia to now.”
Kirkland discusses some of the exhibition’s works in greater detail. “All the pieces stand out in their own way,” she says. “To me, they’re always in motion on the wall. The piece Pathways, mapping injustices. can pull you in by the intense red color, and then you investigate further, and there’s the narrative of Dred Scott.
“For me, I’m drawn to Psychological seeds overgrown. Wildflowers blaze a path. This is the final piece in the show and has an incredible amount of energy. It’s a large work, 75 inches by 85 inches, and holds within all the research and imagery from all the other works in the show. It leaves us with a sense of wonderment about the future.”
Finally, Kirkland mulls which particular pieces from “Unearthed” thus far have attracted the most attention. “That’s a hard question to answer – many folks are drawn for so many different reasons,” she says. “I would say from my perspective that the pieces with more social-political markers in them have created the most conversation.
“The piece Trial and error., about the Mike Brown situation, and Wrought-iron fences. Cultivating divides., about the 1917 East St. Louis riots, stimulate a lot of conversation.
“It’s really wonderful to have this work continue an important conversation about race and history. There’s so much to learn from and reflect on.”