Listen – Talk – Learn
“Our commonalities may be as thick as a knot or thin as a string. As individuals we are strands; as a community we are interwoven. Both can be broken or braided.” Mr. John Chaich penned these words to describe the exhibit he curated, “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community” which closed in mid-March at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City. Mr. Chaich’s eloquent words also echoed an earlier sentiment for me while viewing a portion of the Fiberart International Exhibition of Contemporary Fiber Art with my cousin, Gay Kasegrande, at the Art Museum of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. Both shows provided a glimpse of how careful assemblages of delicate materials that have been cultivated from a rich tapestry of skills have been elevated to meaningful and thought provoking works of art.
Nathan Vincent’s immensely spectacular work at the New York City exhibit warranted such contemplation. His “Locker Room,” 2011 invited the viewer into a knitted sculptural space. Made from Lion Brand Yarn, 144 x 228 inches, over styrofoam and wood substructure, the artist re-created a male locker room and enveloped the utilitarian objects associated with it such as the urinal, shower heads, lockers, locks and benches with the delicate softness of yarn. The gelid feeling that one often assigned to such a room has transformed into warmth. The intended male audience of this space has given way to a broader audience by totally submerging it into the predominantly female associated activity of knitting. Mr. Vincent had not merely covered but also embellished these protective layers with details by adding a wood grain stitch to the bench or by knitting an exquisitely detailed padlock for each locker!
A similar type of protective wrapping enveloped one of the objects from the Fiberart International show. Jolie Bird’s “#703” from 2011 presented her fragile porcelain sugar bowl, “meticulously wrapped” in thread. Just like Nathan Vincent’s locker room, Ms. Bird sought to subvert the meaning of this object by veiling its original form. This once “functional object” has lost its practical use. This act of preservation has stripped the sugar bowl of its value and has rendered it useless. This once utilized commodity has transformed into an artifact for our viewing pleasure.
The familiar representation of a traditionally crocheted granny square has also been transformed in Sheila Pepe’s piece, “Your Granny’s Not Square,” 2008 in the SoHo show. This three dimensional installation was an asymmetrical, web-like marvel that reminded me of neurons attached to one another. The numerous holes and negative spaces created within the installation space itself scaffold the many perspectives one gained from literally seeing through different points of views.
The wall text informed the audience that the artist paid homage to her grandfather, a shoemaker and her grandmother, a crafter. Ms. Pepe was also inspired by Eve Hesse’s 1969 “Right After” and Faith Wilding’s “Crocheted Environment (Womb Room)”, 1972. I was mindful of these connections and sensed feelings of an expanding universe, constant movement and growth as I weaved in and out of this space. Her work also reminded me of a multifaceted structure like the carbon atoms that make up a diamond lattice. Its strong cohesive bonds attracted the process of conceptualizing, materializing or creating.
In contrast, Samantha Fields’ work of a recovered afghan with beads, from the Myrtle Beach show, “She Speaks Folly in a Thousand Holy Ways, 2011” remained contained in its space. The gradations of cascading red and yellow tones direct our eyes to the floor where the trail of cumbersome beads seemed to fasten this afghan to the ground. The artist was interested in the “visual language that has been associated with the feminine…relegated to the superficial, excess. ..” Tight stitches and a uniform gauge encompassed the façade of this afghan. Its verticality supported the regal stature of the piece, as if unmoved by the tremors of our opinion.
Both (the SoHo and Myrtle Beach) exhibits featured beautiful embroidered stitches, weaved, crocheted and knitted artifacts indicative of the artists’ deep knowledge of these crafts. They have also expanded their own interpretation of how these materials and crafting techniques incite reflection and provoke altered perceptions. I found myself shifting perspectives and re-calibrating the precious meanings I have assigned to the male locker room, a porcelain bowl, an afghan. Enlightened by these unique voices, I paused to delight in the newness of these common objects.
During our visit to the Art Museum of Myrtle Beach, my cousin Gay noted, “We are all individuals that come together for one reason or another. We find interests in the common things but are also attracted by uniqueness.” Ms. Kasegrande’s and Mr. Caich’s words inspire us to direct our gaze away from a single thread or the prevailing assumptions about each other and to focus on the convergences of creative ideas, inspired by the world we share. Let us strengthen the braids of our community by appreciating the new meanings derived within the threads of our commonalities.
• Please re-visit my blog when I share my thoughts on “A Thousand Fibers”, a new exhibit curated by artist, Jeannine Bardo at the Brooklyn Stitchery, 458 87th Street, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, from April 4 through May 9, 2014. For more information, please visit http://jeanninebardo.com/ , http://bayridgejournal.blogspot.com/ or http://brooklynstitchery.com/
• For more information on The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, please visit, http://www.leslielohman.org/ The museum is located at 26 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013 (Between Grand & Canal)
• For more information on The Art Museum of Myrtle Beach, please visit, http://www.myrtlebeachartmuseum.org/ The museum of located at 3100 South Ocean Boulevard (across from Springmaid Pier), Myrtle Beach, SC 29577. The FiberArt International Exhibition of Contemporary Fiberart, 2013, is an International Juried Exhibition organized by The Fiber Arts Guild of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania through Thursday, April 24, 2014.