Critics’ Picks

View of “Vo Vo: Things that have to do with fire,” 2021.

View of “Vo Vo: Things that have to do with fire,” 2021.

Portland

Vo Vo

Fuller Rosen Gallery
1928 NW Lovejoy St.
February 18–April 1, 2021

“Fire, never a gentle teacher”; “the economy will be perfect when all our workers have died”; “NO SWERFS NO TERFS THANKS”; “USA = no. 1!”; “What does your solidarity look like?” Phrases such as these, interspersed with various kinds of imagery, are emblazoned across bedsheet-size banners that hang from ceiling of this gallery. Throughout this exhibition, Portland-based artist Vo Vo seeks to maintain the vocabulary and spirit of resistance in the wake of 2020’s endless crises and chaos.

Vo worries that we’re relaxing too much in this new, post-Trump landscape. They know that we can’t go back to normal because to do so would require the continuing exploitation, oppression, and abuse of people and the planet. “Large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity,” said Martin Luther King Jr.; the quotation is vertically embroidered on a banner in a bold sans serif font for Black Lives Matter, 2021. Even if protests have slowed, the crucial efforts of antiracist and antifascist groups—and the fight to stem the Covid-19 virus, which has profoundly ravaged Black and Brown communities across the United States—can’t be diminished or forgotten.

Vo’s use of embroidery and hand-dyeing suffuses these works’ ferocious statements with a palpable sense of tenderness. Stitched drawings of bouncing coronaviruses, nature scenes, buildings, and abstract patterns dance around each textile field. In White Feminism, 2021, appliquéd lace collars, Girl Scout sashes, and clumps of wool are combined with messages supporting trans folk and sex workers. Hanging from a wall is Burn it Down, 2020, a blanket piece that includes a simple rendering of a building with fluted columns. A plaque in the center of the façade’s mantle reads “PIGZ,” while multicolored flames lick the structure’s roof. In the lower left corner of the piece we read “BURN IT DOWN,” written in an elegant serif typeface. Seeing this savage sentiment inscribed upon an object of protection and care makes me think of fire itself—its absolute destructiveness, its vital necessity.