Sunday, June 20, 2010

Employed! A 24 Hr Project

One week after moving to Chicago, I managed to land myself an art show! Thanks to my cousin's amazing girlfriend, and my new friend, Tory, I was invited to participate in a 24 hr project with opening to follow. Each participating artist was to bring all materials necessary to make work to a warehouse space near Chinatown and all work created during the night would be hung in the Nichole Villeneuve Gallery.

What I managed to miss by not reading the fine print of the waiver was that the artists were also responsible for providing tables and chairs. Oops.. good thing I found that chair lying around or it would have been a really long night. You know.. even longer than it was already.

The space was huge and beautiful. Apparently, this particular warehouse used to be owned by Al Capone. It was handily located right on the river... good for dumping bodies? Rumor has it that the basement and freight elevators are haunted! But we saw no evidence of it during our night there.

There were all sorts of artists: painters, sculptors, installation artists, and me: fibers

One of my goals for moving to Chicago was to get back into the studio in a really serious, conceptual way. For the past few years I feel like I've really only been touching upon projects- starting things without finishing them... not really taking the time to think things/concepts all the way through. I haven't, however, lost my crazy thirst for historical details: my most recent research topic has been FDR, the New Deal and the Great Depression. In keeping with that theme, here was the proposal I submitted to the curators of this show:

FDR’s New Deal programs and the American experiences during the Great Depression seem to me to be particularly enlightening in the context of the contemporary “Great Recession” and the global financial crisis. During the 24hr project, “Employed,” I plan on exploring the relationships between the Great Depression and the Great Recession through fibers techniques such as scrap quilting and embroidery: both techniques popularized by the necessary frugality of the hard times of the 1930’s. By utilizing text and images I hope to create a series of compositions that can act individually or as a series.

My research included everything from listening to FDR's fireside chats from the 1930's to reading Paul Krugman articles comparing the economics of the two time periods. But what I found most compelling were the hundreds of posters designed and printed by the Works Progress Administration between 1932 and 1943.

The WPA was the primary institution responsible for getting people back to work during the great depression. They did so by initiating thousands of community improvement projects across the US. Many of these were infostructure building: road construction, bridge construction, etc. But many of them were cultural. The WPA organized and provided funding for murals, musical concert, theater... anything you can think of. And their posters advertised them.

I especially loved the WPA posters that focused on the idea of the importance of work, itself.

I mean... first of all, way to glorify the working class. It just doesn't happen that often. But also, it's so true that being unemployed in a country that idolizes productivity is the difinitive road to depression. No wonder the Great Depression was so totally soul crushing, right?

Uhm, amazing poster much? Totes.

This next one was my favorite. It seemed to bring together all of my research with my personal situation of being an unemployed and unconfident artist with the title of the show, "Employed," with my research of both the past and the present.

What these posters really drove home to me was that the WPA wasn't only battling an economic depression... it was trying to assuage an emotional depression that was affecting the entire American population. Spirits had been hit so hard that fixing one was impossible without fixing the other. This was one of the main differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession that I chose to focus my work on: it seems like now, although times are tough, the American population has kept from sliding headfirst into an emotional pit. Consumerism (apparently the best way to guage people's spirits) is still fairly up. Apple is still releasing ridiculously priced sci-fi products and people are racing to get their hands on them. NPR is still featuring stories of individuals who, after being unceremoniously fired from their boring office jobs, took the "opportunity" to change careers- to become self employed or follow dreams they had never thought were possible.

See? Optimism! And Hence: a flourishing indy crafts movement. The contemporary independent crafts movement combines the comfort seeking nostalgia of handmade objects with the anti-establishment mentality of an unpopular war and the rampant excuse for capitalism that Americans feel is their constitutional right. (Okay, clearly my feelings about the crafts movement are many and varied. And I am admittedly a part of it... but for this project it serves as a complicated muse.)

For my work for the "Employed" show I decided to combine fabrics common to the indy craft movement with images and techniques from the Great Depression.

To me, the forthcoming pieces are a sort of hilarious paradox of domestic memorials (handmade objects that hang in the home) with the mass-produced popular fabric styles and the incongruous images from the WPA posters. Were these posters ever meant to hang in the home? Probably not. But now they can be remembered for the place they hold in America's heart. (I mean, everybody knows this history, right? Ha. Hence my point.)

I chose to leave the images empty for a few reasons: first, because I forgot how god-awful long it takes to embroider anything. I had planned to make maybe six of these compositions but I barely finished three. And second, because I really liked the visual competition of the fabric patterns and the images; like the past and the present were battling to be seen.

Ok, so it's clearly not a finished body of work. But I think there's potential here. I would love to continue the project and make a whole hell of a lot of these guys. I would LOVE any feedback that people have on these, too. Please? Criticism welcome? I need to get back into critique mode.. I've been a bit coddled lately. (Mostly by myself.) Bring it on.

So, a final word on the show experience:

Now, I've done 24 hr projects before... and not with the best success or enjoyment. But the difference between the show I did when I first moved to Philly and this one was that in this case we weren't trying to create collaborative work. When you're relying on other people- people you may not even know- to create a piece that will have your name on it... tensions tend to run very high in the middle of the night. Nichole's show allowed the artists to only feel responsible for their own work... which meant that the rest of the artists involved could be respite and community. I feel like I got to know a bunch of people in the area and see into their creative processes a little bit. It was really awesome.

I thinking Chicago's gonna work out, and I'm really excited to get involved with the art scene here. Too bad i'm leaving for a month in.. like 45 min. I guess I'll try to pick up with this project when I get back in July! In the meantime, stay tuned to the blog for Snow Farm 2010! A week with my amazing nephews! And trying to drive fast enough to escape my personal demons! (Wish me luck. Also safety.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

First Story: Paula Wilson at the Fabric Workshop and Museum

It turns out I took a lot of photos during my 2+ month stint at the Fabric Workshop and Museum... but going through those photos now, almost a month after finishing the project, it's amazing to watch the transformations: basic, monotone, industrial felt was magically transformed into architecture... canvas and tempura paint became a cityscape. Here are (kind of a lot of) photos from the studio:

Industrial felt...

Jenna Eagan and I sewed this cornice the very first week we were here. It was only a taste of the giant-ass sewing to come.

Canvas and burlap.

We sent the drop to Paula in New Mexico so she could paint it. Here it is installed on an ingenious contraption made of plumbers pipe with snaps! SNAPS! On PIPES! These are the big leagues, my friends.

Sample #1, sample #2, photo, sketch...

Et Voila! Pretty grate...

Craft felt with a wire frame stuffed with polyfill and sewn on the industrial very carefully...

I like to think of this pillar as the Logan's Run Pillar... doesn't it just look like some overgrown stone garden? Somehow it's a vaguely sci-fi simulacra...

Fruit! We patterned a ton of fruit: pineapple, lemons, apples, grapes, pears, star-fruit...

Tiernan made these gorgeous braids for the cornices..

That's right: Butt cornices. (In process..)

Elisabeth is a Butt Cornice mastermind...

Fruity Butt Cornice? There was no end of the fun we had with this.

Installed by Elisabeth Roskos.

Monoprinted on silk, canvas and industrial felt.

(Attack of the giant pigeon!)

If you get a chance to go to the show (which clearly you should) see how many pigeons you can count throughout the gallery! So many pigeons...

Since light plays such a huge role in Paula's work another fantastic element to the FWM show was this sign- originally a real estate sign- collaged with scraps of silk organza. I love the relationship between the light coming in the real window and the light- also the shapes: the circle of the window and the circle of the moon. Even though I had never made this connection before, the architecture itself ends up being a reference to nature.

And when you turned around to view the other side of the sign, you make another visual connection between the moon in the sign and the sun-like circle in the stained-glass window. Beauty!

Each leaf and flower was made out of craft felt, industrial felt and stuffing...

and made into a decorative cornice- then combined with the stained glass window panels made of layers of silk organza.

Paula silk-screened her drawings onto lots of different shades of organza, then trimmed, layered and stitched together on a regular house-hold sewing machine.

The base is made out of quarter inch industrial felt and then painted gray to mimic cement or marble.

The windows were then sewn in by master seamtress and studio head Andrea Landau (assisted by myself and Jenna Eagan-shown here- and Tiernan- shown below.)

Serious seamstress street cred, man. For realz.

The window was then installed in the gallery on a plumbers pipe and connected to an amazingly beautiful hand sewn brick wall. I wish I had a close-up of the pipe tube which I engineered and constructed out of felt! It was kind of awesome.

Installed with another wall- monoprinted on canvas- with a black fabric grate. Wheat-pasted directly onto the wall is a collection of posters and drawings. The space itself was part of the inspiration that determined the work so I love how the posters connected the fabric walls we made in the studio and the brick wall of the gallery.

Mono and silk screened burlap curtains- painted and embellished- hung between collaged pillars. (Did you catch the hidden pigeons on the floor there? Yay!)

The show blends together installation and prints, tiny hand-stitched detail and overwhelming proportions. Paula Wilson's vision is an experience that deserves to be seen by everyone. Go See It! (It's up now and will be viewable at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philly until the fall.) And feel free to let me know what you think!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paula Wilson

My time at the fabric workshop was an amazing experience. Artist Paula Wilson was inspired, driven, trusting and supportive throughout the two month period! Before I put up the many MANY photos that I have from the studio, here are some images of the work she made prior to her collaboration with the Fabric Workshop. I loved seeing these pieces, some of which were even hung in the gallery at FWM: I think it's difficult for some artists to traverse a range of medias and to stretch into unfamiliar materials but Paula successfully translated her previous works into fabric.

For example, here's a drawing of a stained glass window:

Tomorrow's Tomorrow
50 x 50 inches, Oil, spray paint, collaged/inlayed paper including woodblock prints mounted on paper, 2008

You'll see in the Fabric Workshop installation how beautifully the idea of the stained glass window was transformed into an actual "stained glass" window. Beautiful! Other motifs include nature vs city, butts, vases and vessels, water, and self portraiture.

95 x 50 inches, Oil, spray paint, collaged/inlayed paper including woodblock prints on paper mounted, 2007

Sight Seeing
7 3/4 x 6 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches, Collaged oil on paper with mahogany wood support, 2008

19 1/2 x 25 3/4 inches, Relief woodcut, offset lithography and silkscreen with collaged elements and handcoloring, 2007

Last Summer Remixed
1 29.5 x 21.25 inches, Ink on etching, 2008

Last Summer
19 1/2 x 25 3/4 inches (image size), Etching, silkscreen and handcoloring, 2007

To see more images of Paula's work- and to read some of her writing/ some writing about her- here are some links!