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.)

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