Lanfranco's intricate black paper cutouts fill a room-sized installation. Photo by Shelby Graham.

Shining black deer hoofprints lead the visitor up the stairs of Porter College's D building. Following this nature trail—subtly applied to cast concrete and playfully punctuated by pink blossoms—we are led into a transformation of bare walls into a vivacious forest of the imagination, a forest entirely created of hand-cut black paper.

A six-month residency in Japan last year on a Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission fellowship immersed New York artist (and UCSC alumna) Katerina Lanfranco in the intricate practices of katagami (paper cut-outs) and ikebana (flower arranging). Looking at both the natural world and her own bio-intensive artwork through the lens of another Pacific Rim culture armed Lanfranco with a sensitivity to the natural world currently translated into a room-sized installation at the Sesnon Gallery. The tour in Japan clearly expanded Lanfranco's vocabulary of cultural archetypes, and the current show builds upon an evolving network of biological perspectives.

Guided by Lanfranco's re-visualization of the trees and plants of the UCSC campus into a magical artifactual landscape, a team of student assistants worked with layers of coated black paper, cutting and carving, until they had lined the walls—up to the very ceiling—with an exquisite tracery of light and shadow. As with any great forest worth its chlorophyll, the details of Lanfranco's Natural Selection emerge only gradually. This is a space designed as much for meditation as for inspiration. To enter the Sesnon Gallery, from now until March 16, is to be intertwined with a world where ginko leaves morph into butterflies, and the graceful arabesques of magnolia support an almost hidden scaffolding of insects and birds. Ablaze with bamboo and stars, these silhouetted shapes shift from tree into bird into vine into bee. Substantial yet fantastical, the installation—which is “announced” by a separate wall of colored paper, including cutout “ikebana” chrysanthemums—captivates in a way that is both rococco and deliciously wild.

Supporting the main installation and expanding its metaphorical influence are two other shows involving the aesthetic miracles wrought with and upon cut paper. In the small adjoining gallery, a group of cut-paper explorations called “Clear Cuts” offers insight into the world created in miniature. From the beauty of Kara Walker's celebrated silhouettes to gorgeously folded and cut, all-white woodland windows in A Tree a Day, January 2010 by Davenport artist Felicia Gilman, the room hums with the microcosmic viewpoint available when the hand shapes figures into vibrant metaphors. The hand-cut-and-stitched romance novel by Lauren Scalon, for example, puns wittily on the entire idea. The Porter Faculty Gallery next door boasts a fascinating and accomplished suite of experimental laser-cut intaglio prints by Richard Wohlfeiler, master of a process blending ancient woodcut with the forefront of digital inquiry. Eye candy with depth.

 

KATERINA LANFRANCO: NATURAL SELECTION

Through March 16

Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, Porter College, UCSC