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Falkirk exhibit looks at the baggage we schlepp

By Jason Walsh, IJ reporter

Bags and baggage.

Whether it's home from the supermarket or as emotional burden, we all carry them.

And it's with this in mind that the Falkirk Cultural Center presents "Bags and Baggage," an art exhibit that takes the age-old "paper or plastic?" question to a whole new dimension.

Opening tomorrow, "Bags and Baggage" features a variety of works from local artists bent on examining the poignancy of the human condition through the use of plastic wrap and ancient luggage.

"It's literal and interpretive," explains San Anselmo artist Stuart Wagner. "In the literal sense it's simply bags and what you can do with them. But in the more esoteric sense its the bags and baggage that you carry through life - your memories, your fears, your anxieties, all that stuff that people don't see."

And you thought your fanny pack was just an accessory that made you look sporty.

Wagner's "My Struggle," for instance, depicts a Jewish star (constructed from Lincoln Logs) sitting atop a battered red wagon made from a bag of concrete and, according to the artist, is a commentary on growing up Jewish in a highly Catholic neighborhood.

"I really believe that the viewer completes the art," Wagner says. "They look at an image and sort of figure out what it means through the baggage that they bring with them."

"Bags and Baggage" is the brainchild of an artist collection called the Edge, nine local artisans who were inspired by both the practical and symbolic uses of bags, baggage and anything else that allows people to carry their personal (and personality) goods.

"There's humor and pathos and wit," says Nancy Ziegler Nodelman, a Larkspur artist who was instrumental in bringing "Bags and Baggage" to Falkirk. "The exhibit just touches on so many different aspects of the human condition."

One of Nodelman's human condition-examining pieces, "Case of AmmoAllure," combines lipstick tubes and shotgun shells to form a quasi woman's handbag that plays upon the idea of the self-creating femme fatale.

"Lipstick tubes look a lot like bullets and are often used as a sort of morale booster," says Nodelman. "It's a weapon for women who think a new shade of lipstick will make them alluring."

The nearly 40-piece show features a multitude of materials and techniques, says Nodelman, including everything from tea bags and supermarket bags to woodwork and welded steel.

Several pieces deal with the association between bags and consumer culture. Cecelia Thorner's "Every Day of Shopping is Christmas," for instance, fashions hundreds of shopping bags into a giant Christmas tree, while her "Retail Therapy" creates purses composed of price tags.

Identity is a running theme in the works of Mill Valley's Shoko Kageyama Klyce, whose "Hand Bag" welds a steel purse to a knitted steel hand bag - demonstrating how a simple handbag can become a literal extension of the self.

"Most women you ask feel naked without bags," says Klyce. "Even Queen Elizabeth is never seen without a bag, and she certainly doesn't need one."

Whether shooting for humor, irony or poignancy, the Edge artists generally believe that what makes the exhibit special is the idea that all people can relate to the concept that what we carry, in many ways, carries us.

"The meaning of the bags we carry goes way beyond what they are literally," says Nodelman. "It's about being human and the things we bring with us that others can't see.

"There's a lot of baggage in this exhibition."

"Bags and Baggage" opens tomorrow and runs through Jan. 8 at the Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission Blvd. in San Rafael. An opening reception takes place tonight from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Regular gallery hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 485-3328.

Jason Walsh can be reached at jwalsh@marinij.com.

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