Disposable beauty: Wood thinks outside the bag

The ubiquitous plastic bag—flimsily useful for a minute or two and then thrown away without a second thought. Scourge of the environment, tossed-aside plastic bags clog sewers, foul waterways, and often flap out-of-reach in tree branches. Yet like the character of Ricky Fitts in the film American Beauty, artist K. Wood sees loveliness in this mass-produced, utilitarian item that most people despise (if they even think of it at all).

For her exhibit, “Contain,” currently on view in the Dean’s Gallery at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, Wood puts a new twist—literally and figuratively—on the disposable plastic grocery sack. She shreds not only the bags but also their cookie-cutter image by transforming them into unique sculptural objects that recall both exquisite handmade crafts and organic phenomena, like insect hives and undersea plants.

Occasionally using only plastic strips but more often incorporating wire for form and structure, Wood winds, weaves, and coils her unlikely base material to create basket-like “containers” that are more beautiful than functional. Wood is particularly adept at working with color, and she plays with density and translucence to create different effects. Wrapped tightly, red plastic bags resemble coral beading. Twisted lightly, tan plastic strips become indistinguishable from raffia—except for the black lettering Woods allows to show here and there.

Wood challenges viewers’ perceptions about what is manufactured and what is natural, what is mass-produced and what is handcrafted, and what is worthless and what is exquisite. In several pieces, she skillfully mixes textures. “Container no 12” begins with an outer left curl of woven citrine-like yellow, then moves into an interior sweep of wrapped vines in shades of emerald and peridot that curve back out to terminate in a thick gray-green fringe. In the cocoon-like “Container no. 13,” spiraling vertical sections of woven ecru alternate with red netting that usually holds oranges and grapefruits.

Wood's most beautiful piece, though, is “Container no. 2,” which simultaneously resembles an asymmetrical basket and an undersea flower. A loosely coiled tomato-red center radiates arms like a starfish. Between these limbs, areas of woven gray surround the base and send twisted fronds of cream and gray flowing to the outer oval rim. Light passes through it casting lacy shadows on the wall.

With “Contain,” Wood has taken something functional but formless and altered it to have wondrous form without function— except to open eyes and inspire thought.

K. Wood's exhibition, "Contain," is on view through August 26 in the Dean's Gallery on the second floor of the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Campbell Hall. 982-2921.

Note: The artist's last name was misspelled in the print version of this story. It is Wood, not Woods; and the correct name has been updated in this archived online edition.