Art plays quiet homage to war dead

In a darkened room, pieces of fabric lie alone and in small groupings like bodies scattered across a battlefield. The pieces pile up on top of each other against a far wall, recalling the victims of massacres or concentration camps.

Ellen Wishnetsky's sculptural installation in Southern Oregon University's Retzlaff Gallery is a quiet but powerful indictment of war that was two years in the making.

In the fall of 2005, she began cutting and tearing bed sheets, then rolling the strips to form rose-like shapes. Packages of old sheets arrived in the mail from friends and family on a nearly weekly basis, filling her Ashland studio.

"Sheets are so intimate. They are next to one's skin.

All of the emotions one is feeling are imbued in the fabric," Wishnetsky said. "They came from people who had died. They were used in babies' cribs. The cycle of birth and death and everything in between is also imbued in the fabric."

The number of roses grew and grew &

they would eventually total 5,963 &

as she pondered their meaning. Then came the day when Wishnetsky came across a photo from Masada, Israel, where she had traveled a decade ago.

In 74 A.D., the mountain fortress on a plateau near the Dead Sea was the site where Jewish fighters, according to some historical accounts, killed themselves and their families rather than fall into the hands of an attacking Roman army.

The photo of pillars that still stand at the site made Wishnetsky begin to think about her own work in different terms.

"It was the starting point of the shift. It felt way more global," she said. "It felt like Vietnam and Auschwitz and Darfur and Iraq."

She began to think of standing the rose forms vertically like the pillars, but then realized the fabric pieces lying prone in her studio looked more like fallen, shrouded figures.

Wishnetsky, who until now has focused on minimal, abstract paintings and equally minimal fabric pieces, suprised herself with the shift to politically charged work.

She said her concern about the fact that humanity is still engaged in war, despite all the lessons from the past, pushed her in this new direction.

"I think it's important for artists' voices to be heard," she said. "Something inside of me wants it to be heard in this way."

Wishnetsky will give a talk about the work at 5 p.m.

on Thursday, Oct. 18, in the Meese Auditorium. The exhibit ends Friday, Oct. 19.

The Meese Auditorium and the Retzlaff Gallery are located in the building just to the east of SOU's Schneider Museum of Art. Gallery hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or To post a comment visit .

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