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Sheila Rotner

"Sheila Rotner at Marsha Mateyka Gallery"
by Nancy Ungar

Sculpture Magazine, November 2004, pp 70-71

Geometry has always appealed to artists: it provides structure, balance, and a sense of safety for compositions that might otherwise wander. It has informed the paintings of former architect Sheila Rotner throughout her career and serves her well now that she regularly ventures into the third dimension.

Rotner's iconically riveting woven metal and fabric pieces protrude from the wall. Sharply pointed armatures of steel hardware cloth support more vulnerable canvas or mesh strips. Together, they lend a disturbing and clashing tactility, marrying tooled steel with the hands-on sensuality of "women's work". One can imagine the mica chips on the surface scraping fingers already bloodied from bending sharp-tipped steel.

"Obstacle 2" is a two-foot-square work of metallic painted canvas woven through hardware cloth and topped with clumps of sand and mica. The mottled colors and the pattern of the weave suggest a seascape, an aqua sky touched with pink meeting a field of paled and grayed greens. the piece bows away from the wall, back arched, as though pulled into space by its gritty surface. Its elusive title draws attention to the cage-like format and perhaps to the ocean that separates Rotner from her English homeland.

Rotner's is a neat industrial geometry humanized by imperfections and an implied subservience to time. The lovely iridescent blue and green surface of "Apotheosis 3" softens the aggressiveness of its four-foot-square size, while a large woven equilateral triangle points downward to counter the upward thrust of modern architecture. Mica ships rain down like falling debris from the apex, implying movement, change, and decay. This metallic geometric form is therefore rendered vulnerable and subtly removed from the macho ideal of the impregnable structure.

"Soul Cage 2" is the most successful of Rotner's fully sculptural pieces. Constructed of three grades of mesh rather than of canvas, the work is semi-transparent, inviting viewers into its depths. It consists of a 17-inch cube of gray wire mesh woven into hardware cloth and partially covered with sand. The cube is attached to a wall at one end. In its interior sits a yellow cube, made of finer mesh, which in turn houses a red cube; deeper yet is the smallest cube, interwoven with mylar. This cube, which reflects light outward, is the stable soul of the piece, animating its encaging armor. When the sun hits the work at a certain angel, the outer mesh becomes opaque. It is a hide-and-seek game that piques our curiosity by making it difficult to see the inner cubes through the intervening layers of mesh. The sizes of the cubes are determined mathematically via the golden section. Its calibration unconsciously satisfies, lending the work a sense of predetermined order and rightness.

These compulsively constructed and ordered works are fetishes of our machine-age era. And despite their Minimalist beauty, they are deliciously painful.