Thrive: Senior Thesis Exhibition Review

Thrive: Senior Thesis Exhibition Review – Abbi Spangler (Fall 2021)

By: Olivia Wachtel

Walking into Thrive, Abbi Spangler’s BFA thesis exhibition, I was struck by the sheer volume of her work. Hanging from the ceiling scaffolding were seven unique, organic shapes, and on closer inspection, I saw that each was crocheted by hand using strips of fabric. After I got past the shock of just how many hours Spangler must have spent laboring over this piece, I began to watch how people responded to the installation. 

Spangler and a few other arts students began to sit cross-legged or lay flat on the concrete floor, looking up at the shapes from various angles. I overheard one student telling Spangler, “I love how it looks totally different from this angle. It’s like being in a whole different place!” Indeed, Chad Troyer, our Art Director, got excellent photographs of the installation that give you a taste of how immersive Spangler’s work is. Even Spangler herself writes in her artist statement, “I wanted to immerse the viewer and have [the installation] overwhelm their field of view.” From an immersive aspect, Spangler definitely created the desired effect.

Even as the orbs and tassels of Thrive drew me into the piece, something about the installation was a bit unsettling. It reminded me of large mushrooms or wasp nests I saw all over Ohio growing up. Whether or not Spangler’s intent was to make the viewer shiver with mild discomfort, I found that she did at least want the installation to harken the viewer back to nature. She explains, “The hanging orbs are similar to cocoons or eggs and the dangling threads or hairs capture a sense of time being passed.” The motif of organic life is integral to Spangler’s work, which uses one unified canopy to show how each unique orb grows from the same root. 

In the wake of the difficult lockdowns we faced in 2020-21, Spangler’s focus on natural forms and quiet growth seems quite timely. She explains that the expansion and contraction of each crocheted orb is intended to reflect natural cycles such as the Fibonacci sequence. For me, this focus on cycles closely reflected how, when the pandemic forced us to restrict our social interactions, our appreciation of nature greatly increased. Of course, Spangler likely didn’t have this specific parallel in mind when creating Thrive, but the fact that her work spoke so personally to me shows the artist’s ability to deeply impact the viewer. 

On leaving the exhibition, I felt not only awed by the skill and care Spangler showed with these massive crocheted forms, but also more appreciative of the beauty of everyday organic life surrounding me. 

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