Ten pairs of giant legs descend from the ceiling of the Robert Hillestad Textile Gallery, each leg winding up in a giant high-heeled shoe. Made of thread with tiny leaves of hand-dyed fabric, the legs are "empty," more space than structure.
But with their representation of vines they make the point that pervades "Oh Naturale," the captivating exhibition by Susan Taber Avila that fills the space on the second floor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Home Economics Building with a combination of installation and wall pieces.
In her artist's statement, Avila, a fiber artist who teaches at the University of California Davis, writes that "Oh Naturale" is a body of work inspired by nature and the organization of nature by humans. But that is underselling the multilayered exhibition.
The legs, which fill the center of the gallery, make up "The Forest," one of three primary pieces in the installation and the most instantly eye-catching.
The second, even more impressive piece is called "Garden Wall," and it covers the gallery's entire south wall.
Again combining thread construction with fabric, "Garden Wall" is another representation of greenery. But on the outermost of its three layers are stitched words.
On each end of the piece are words in rows, such as "Freedom Prosperity Fun Relaxation Delight" or, in another row, "Wealth Indulgence Attainment Gratification."
In the center are words and phrases lifted from spam e-mail - the text of one of those ubiquitous messages from a foreign land promising money and a series of lines that start with "SUBJECT" and contain lines anyone who has an e-mail account has seen.
Further adding to the depth of the piece, intellectually and literally, the same words are printed on the fabric that is closest to the wall.
An incisive commentary, "Garden Wall" presents the increasing contrast and conflict between our machine-oriented existence and nature through language and representation - the words not yet overwhelming the environment but becoming ever more entwined with it.
The final major piece, "Garden Metaphor," also works on the relationship between language and nature, recycling familiar phrases/cliches, such as "Plant a seed" and "A rose by any other name," in a multilayered piece.
Here, Avila makes a different point from that of "Garden Wall," visually representing how nature becomes a part of language and then is forgotten, as the metaphor loses its connection to the real world.
"Oh Naturale" also features a series of "Thailand Tree Portraits," digitally printed reproductions of photographs on silk and hemp. Capturing nature, including a lizard of some sort climbing a branch, the photos are blurry, again delving into the conflict between the environment and man as he tries to capture/control it.
In contrast, a series of "Cave Drawings" reproduces the interiors of caves with bright colors and sharp lines.
It isn't absolutely necessary to consider the man/nature aspect of "Oh Naturale"; the exhibition is impressive as installation and construction/creation. But adding that layer of understanding makes Avila's work resonate and gives it the kind of impact that comes from the best art.