A delicate darkness emanates from "Traces," Rachel Moore's solo exhibition at Edgewater Gallery in Stowe. For Moore, who joined Helen Day Art Center as curator in 2010 and succeeded Nathan Suter as executive director in 2016, this is the first comprehensive showing of her work in Vermont. As such, the show, curated by Edgewater's Kelly Holt, is an exciting opportunity to witness and integrate Moore's dual roles as arts leader and artist. Holt has described the show as a sort of retrospective, spanning works from 2003 to the present.
"Traces" immediately conjures a sense of home and the domestic. Occupying half of the gallery's light-filled, hardwood-floored space, 21 works include a dramatic hanging cluster of glass forms, small altar-like arrangements, cast porcelain fruit, and framed watercolors and street maps.
While Moore may draw on the visual language of chic and airy home décor, "Traces" offers deep and somber meditations on loss, displacement and human history. Close observers will see the subtlety of Moore's approach give way to heaviness on further inspection; what appears light and gossamer turns out to be ghostly and often aching.
At the show's entrance hang four modest watercolors depicting vessels: an almost cheerful blue rowboat or lifeboat, a slightly more grand fishing boat, a ramshackle raft with a jerry-rigged sail, and an inflatable raft. Separately, these pieces might pass as pleasant commercial paintings, but, when grouped together and titled "Migration Vessel I-IV," they require further engagement from the viewer. Visions of modern refugee crises come to the fore, as illustrated by haunting media photographs of capsized boats and drowned children. Who is migrating, and how and why? What keeps them afloat, or not?
Nearby, "Drifters: Pulled From the Sea" hangs from the high ceiling at the center of the gallery's foyer. Made of 12 handblown glass orbs, each roughly a foot across, the sculpture is a conglomeration of forms that mimic drifter buoys. These air-filled globes, curator Holt explained in an interview, gather scientific data about water temperature and shifts in the tides — sea changes, in other words.
In the context of the interlinked phenomena of climate change and human migration, Moore gives shape to the great and dangerous unknown — the ocean — through its absence. She "traces" the tangible shapes of human attempts to adapt.
The sculptural pair "Message in a Bottle (Black)" and "Message in a Bottle (White)" also employs the buoy shape, perhaps with a more incisive charge. Each of these is partially covered with an organic layer of barnacle-like fiber forms, a nod to the interrelation of human-made and natural worlds. The top of each sculpture is emblazoned with the text "Do Not Pick Up." This might be read as a cutting reference to the refusal of certain countries to welcome refugees, even as the buoy itself has become home to new, uninvited life forms.
Across the gallery from the vessel watercolors is a grouping of three text-free street maps from Moore's 2014 body of work "An Olive and an Oak." These are spare, composed of two layered sheets of opaque vellum paper with simple black ink lines denoting roads. Their titles — "Tipou," "Ano Poli" and "Michail Psellou" — hint at their location: Each is a street or neighborhood of Thessaloniki, Greece, where Moore spent 2010 as a Fulbright fellow. The "olive" in the series' title represents Greece and its traditions; the "oak," Moore as an American.
Within her streetscape of "Tipou," Moore has drawn three hanging lanterns. The choice echoes the dangling glass buoys while reflecting her general impulse to conflate interior and exterior spaces and macro- and micro-circumstances.
This sensitive, if oblique, merging of global phenomena with intimate and geographic cartographies appears again in several demure altar-like installations.
Also from "An Olive and an Oak," "Portrait of a City: Monuments" features three works on paper hung above a plain, smooth wooden shelf. To the left are two small ovals of black tape; in the center, an ink drawing of an object that appears to be both chandelier and fountain; to the right, an embossed vitreograph, or a print made with a glass plate. This last work reads, "Only the monuments they want to remember have been preserved." Beneath the trio, on the right edge of the shelf, sits a single egg of black glass.
Three smaller shrines continue this practice of creating collisions between domestic space and broad ruminations on history and memory. "Portrait of a (Ghost) City" is especially pointed, referencing the Holocaust. A framed, all-white oblong vitreograph, which is legible only from certain angles, reads, "They left the homes of the Jews empty out of respect." Beneath sits a single white porcelain clementine on a small, circular wooden shelf. The ghostly offering is a gesture of sustenance.
Another altar-like installation, "Portrait of a City: Remembrance (text by scholar Mark Mazower)," repeats the pattern. Here, Mazower's text, borrowed from his book Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, offers, "Cities after all are places of both eviction and sanctuary." Beneath rests a porcelain ghost-pomegranate.
A few more of these porcelain fruits sit among wooden shelves at the back of the gallery, surrounded by large-scale watercolors of pigeons. Symbols of urban life, migration and message carrying, these birds would be simply pretty if not for the context of the surrounding show: city maps, contemplations of home and safety.
That Moore's work should address such heavy and politically relevant themes is hardly surprising; as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she focused on social practice. The particular success of "Traces" seems to be its slow burn. Using mostly black and white throughout a broad swath of disciplines, Moore has found a way to comment on some of the world's most complicated (gray?) and violent problems in the softest, most intimate of terms.