Bibbity, Bobbity, Boo

Appropriately enough, the most compelling piece in “Hedge Magic,” the Soap Factory’s loosely pagan- and detritus-themed show, which opened last Saturday, is a pile of enchanted dust.

Well, several piles, actually. The Urbana, Illinois-based artist Meredith Foster hauled the grainy sand-stuff all the way up to the Soap, where she piled it, sculpture-like, over several waist-high tables. The result is a series of scorched moonscapes: charcoal grey topographies, undulating in deliberate swells and trenches, scarred occasionally by jagged white trenches. Delicate as a dandelion clock. The young artist hovered near the tables for most of Saturday’s opening reception, as if worried some drunk art-goer might sneeze and scatter the entire masterpiece.

So. Sand art. Kindergarten playtime. Beach souvenir stuff. Right? Wrong.

The “topographical maps,” as Foster calls them, are 3D build-outs of a series of drawings she did in 2009-10, of a local river and its surroundings. To make the drawings, she collected autumn olive and charcoal from an Illinois prairie, burned both, and got to sketching with the charred remains.

You don’t get much more pagan-y than that. It’s smudgy and ritualistic, in an honor-the-land kind of way. But more to Hedge Magic’s purposes—a show about transformations, evolving states of matter, and a “non-hermetic magic based on intuition rather than dogma” (which, by the way, might explain the show’s infuriatingly haphazard use of didactic panels)—it’s shape-shifting art. A drawing becomes sculpture. Landscape becomes tonal abstraction. Foster’s dust piles are ultimately formal studies—odes, in sand form, to the infinite shades of gray.

This Saturday, the art mages of “Hedge Magic” get in on the Northern Spark action, welcoming visitors to the Soap for some high-minded witchcraft. Artist David Hamlow invites strangers to create “bricks” out of recycled cardboard packaging, which he’s been using to build  a massive wall within the gallery. And Jess Hirsch will be hosting a good old-fashioned tent revival, complete with sage, karaoke, Tarot readings, and mystical sound performances.

If Foster’s sand piles are still intact, we might have these occult interventions to thank.

“Hedge Magic”
Through August 5, with special events planned for Northern Spark on June 9
The Soap Factory, 514 2nd St. SE, Mpls.