In the exhibition, But It Doesn’t Hold Water, Colella's work has made a notable pivot. Her signature acts of craft and care remain, in the strange garden of domestic materialities; grandmother’s quilts, wedding gowns, mother’s drapes and flannel nightgown, dad’s plaid shirts, husband’s t-shirts, son’s striped dress shirt, furry remnants from toys and upholstery, the threads of unfinished needlepoint and embroideries. The shift comes in the introduction of ceramics, new for the artist; her trademark flexible materials now commingle with hard clay vessels and forms. Interestingly, the introduction of this rigid earthy material has softened Colella’s grip on narrative. The clay defies her control, foregrounding the tactile over the literal, reflecting an introspective moment in her practice. As malleable as fabric when wet, clay resists, it bulges and cracks, pushes against stress and breaking points before hardening to solid form. A sense of touch— a fingerprint, a mark, a fold, a pull, a shove, is left visible in the form. Vessels, historically containers for sustenance, here cannot hold water. These vessels are lumpy, misshapen, lopsided, with cracks and orifices, they feel fungible, porous to the world. They droop, sag, and fold as cloth spills from unenclosed interiors. A boulder shape sits on top of another, spitting hairy threads, a head-like form is poked through with sticks above a gaping mouth, wool and fabric cascade chaotically onto the floor. The clay forms are stitched with thread, a signature gesture of mending, and combined with textile, wool, sticks, reeds and other natural materials. They contrast rigid and yielding materials, rawness and refinement, in an unfinish that reads as a tenderness. These hybrid vessels continually shift meaning, they are oblique, contingent, and vulnerable.
My first contact with Colella’s work was through the feminist projects such as the tightly bound Mary Janes, the stitched vernacular tintypes of Unidentified Woman, and the monumental textile work Once Was, a memorial for those lost to the opioid epidemic. These projects speak to a history of loss, fracture and constraint, primarily in women’s lives, clear stories told through the language of textile and craft. They convey specific stories— of protest, defiance, remembrance, and grief, of the silencing of women’s voices, the nullification of identity and autonomy, and the senselessness of drug profits over human life. At first nostalgic, playful, even toylike, their seething control becomes increasingly dystopian upon sustained looking. In these works, quiet rage for the politics of oppression is served sweetly, a soft glove that lands a gut punch. The pointed exterior narratives so crucial to the artist’s prior work have come undone here. The ferocity has quieted, there is no commentary, polemic, or furied response. Colella’s obsessive repetitive binding, wrapping, and containing, deliberate acts of control and resistance, have unraveled to reveal an interiority previously tightly protected. The frayed edges, awkward cavities, and slumped forms insist on ambiguity and awkwardness as a kind of autonomy. The clay roots the objects to the earth, grounded in their precariousness. The work in But It Doesn’t Hold Water quietly embodies both the frailty and the strength of surrender. Patricia Miranda2023