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Originally published Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 7:02 PM

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Review: Seattle fiber artist Mandy Greer spins 'Honey and Lightning' at Roq La Rue

Mandy Greer, known for her large, distinctive outdoor art installations using crochet and other weaving techniques, has a solo show of installations and photos at Seattle's Roq La Rue.

Special to The Seattle Times

'Honey and Lightning'

Works by Mandy Greer, 1-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Feb. 4, Roq La Rue Gallery, 2312 Second Ave., Seattle; free (206-374-8977 or www.roqlarue.com).

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In one corner of a Belltown gallery, a glamorous red bird admires itself in the multiple reflections of a vanity-table mirror. Jagged, glittering forks of lightning shoot out from the mirror's center. The bird's elegant beak is made from the same papier-mâché base and fabric cover as the "coral" pieces you find among its feathers.

Across the room, the mirrored walls of the "Honey Moon" chamber fracture your image as you enter a 10-foot-tall jewelry box. Its centerpiece is an enormous chandelier adorned with innumerable tiny talismans: keys, chains, bells, buttons and brooches. They represent so many things to Seattle fiber artist Mandy Greer, whose installations and photography are on view at Roq La Rue for a final week.

The pieces — from her grandmother's jewelry collection, junk boxes purchased on eBay, other random finds — are melded through her familiar crochet and beading techniques.

"Fake gold jewelry is so gaudy, but it represents pure substance," says Greer. "It was a struggle at first — is this going to be hideous?"

Quite the opposite.

Looking at every large-scale work of Greer's, you're taken aback by its inventiveness and old-fashioned beauty. The works allow you to be unself-consciously awed by art. And there's still much to ponder.

Take the title of the show: "Honey and Lightning." It looks at, in Greer's words, "the mercurial nature of human desire."

"Both substances have literary, mythical and archetypal references to the occurrence and evolution of desire and its fading."

The other installation room in the show, the "Cherry Tree Root" chamber, contains the ugliest castoffs in Greer's fabric collection, entwined with bits of her husband's hair and molded with latex paint and dirt dug from underneath the couple's home. Standing inside of the chamber of ropelike "roots" is to be engulfed in a different kind of romance — feeling the grounding effect of the stability that comes long after the shock of love at first sight fades.

Greer's husband, Paul Margolis, appears in several of the staged photographs that accompany the installations. Looking like a wild-eyed Norse god, he's covered in dirt and gold — a bit of dark-blue eye shadow framing his face — and running free in the woods.

In other photos, Greer's friends appear in handmade headdresses. One is dressed as Demeter (the goddess of agriculture), pomegranate in hand, waiting for her daughter Persephone's arrival to signify spring.

All of the photo images have been created by flipping each photo and creating a mirror image of it at one or two points, using Photoshop. This brings out details among the surprising symmetry. There are recurring templelike shapes, spider faces, antlers, vulvas and crosses.

Making the photos "is really pleasurable, because it's an image I'm really familiar with before I do anything to it," says Greer, who has done site-specific outdoor fiber installations around the region as well as pieces for Seattle's Book-It Repertory Theatre and Degenerate Art Ensemble.

"When they're opened up, it's like a butterfly. Lots of times [the photo] will be [flipped on] a part of an image where there's a mess of squiggling crochet, and when it's mirror-imaged it becomes ordered. The coral becomes almost like a wallpaper pattern.

"Humans find symmetry beautiful, and since the beginning of my art-making [as a ceramist] I've been attracted to stylized nature."

Rachel Shimp: rachel.e.shimp@gmail.com

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