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Twisted shapes Wire artist blends concepts of language, contradictory ideas

Lesley Dill hopes that when you look at her sculpture you feel tender, not overwhelmed.

"A massive bronze [sculpture] can make you feel teeny. I like the viewer to feel poignant and caring when seeing my fine-gauge wire sculptures," she said by phone from her studio in Brooklyn. "They can make you feel both gentle and edgy. . ."

Dill, 56, is a renowned artist who is represented in permanent collections including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her work is in many different mediums, and also includes performance and collaboration. Her current show at the Castellani Art Museum is the first time that an exhibit consisting only of her wire pieces has been assembled.

The five sculptures in the show are constructed of bent, twisted, and shaped fine-gauge wire, interwoven in some cases with thread and/or dyed horsehair. The results are interconnected arrays of forms, words and textures.

One goal of the show is to demonstrate contradictions. There is seeing vs. looking, conscious reading vs. visceral understanding, and other subtle layers.

Language is an integral part of her inspiration. Dill feels particularly connected to the poet Emily Dickinson.

"I was always too 'zippy' to let poetry sink in," she said. "But when I finally read Dickinson, I felt like I was tasting something -- the words went to an intuitive place in my body, as if they were an arrow striking an apple's core."

"Over the years, my work has become about our relationship to language," she added. "So it's not that important whether you read the words in these works; they are like a cobweb, or knit, like nerve endings."

Michael J. Beam, the Castellani Art Museum's curator of exhibitions and collections, said Dill's work is timely. "Part of Lesley's work is a statement on contemporary culture," he said. "Between instant messaging and e-mail, people don't even use full words any more. I think Lesley indicates that we don't really stop to listen to each other."

The physical materials in her sculptures add to their strength. "Wire and horsehair are like our hair and veins -- our linear, tactile body parts," Dill said. "But they also represent our thoughts. Words, and even our existence, are like that; born in a breath, with this delicate, fragile vulnerability."

The museum makes a conspicuous effort to engage viewers with the art, and to provide an educational aspect to all their exhibits, as they are located on a university campus and are often visited by younger school groups.

In a corner of the room where the Dill sculptures are displayed, there is a table where visitors can do a small project that echoes the work on the walls. In this way, said Beam, visitors can "get some ownership" of the exhibit.

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