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Elaine Bradford: Freaks of Nurture

In her exhibition "Freaks of Nurture," Elaine Bradford's crochet-covered menagerie of stuffed animals is equal parts lighthearted nonsense and poignant sadness

Reviewed by Amanda Douberley, Fri., March 23, 2007

Arts Review

"Elaine Bradford: Freaks of Nurture" Women & Their Work, through March 31

Arts Review

Elaine Bradford melds two extreme forms of domestic kitsch – taxidermy and needlework – to create hybrid objects with open-ended significance. The Houston-based artist's embellished deer heads were featured at Okay Mountain last summer in "Outside In," a two-person show with photographer William Hundley. At Okay Mountain, Bradford connected the antlers of crochet-covered deer heads with looping strands of striped stitching, making a playful network of red- and aqua-colored yarn that snaked across the ceiling's metalwork from one mount to another. With "Freaks of Nurture" at Women & Their Work, Bradford further exploits the shock effect engendered by the convergence of polar opposites: masculine and feminine, violence and nurture, artificial and natural, freakish and conventional.

Stepping into the gallery is like walking into a really weird basement, minus the faux-wood paneling. At one end of the room, a crochet-covered antelope head lolls on the floor, connected to its mount by a thick umbilical cord of baby blue, light yellow, and dark-brown yarn. Two masked deer heads attached to a double mount hang on the opposite wall, a conspicuous row of buttons closing up the gap between their two faces. Bradford bluntly reinforces the distinct feeling that you've entered a mutant world – she even titled one work Crossbreeding a Doe With Your Grandmother's Afghan. In this piece, a crochet-covered, taxidermied doe head mounted on one wall is linked to a huge striped circle of crocheted yarn that nearly covers a wall nearby. Crocheted ropes that pull the circular piece slightly off the wall, producing a cone, attach these two elements. As a formal experiment, it's beautiful work. Factor in the doe's head and the title, though, and it's not quite clear if this is the manifestation of a farmhouse daydream or a nightmarish parallel universe.

A similar sense of ambiguity pervades all of the work in this show: Bradford's menagerie is equal parts lighthearted nonsense and poignant sadness. Some of her animals stare pitifully out from their crocheted masks, while a coyote pathetically chases its tail, lost in a tangle of yarn. Bradford's afghans and sweaters can be interpreted as a token of comfort, but it's hard to take them quite so seriously, which just might be the point.

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