In 2005 I started working in “fiber”, using hand-sewing and hand-embroidery to make a body of work that explored the presence, and disappearance, of objects common to day-to-day life and the relationships we make to them. The materials, tools and time-intensive labor associated with the material conjure opposing feelings of precious and pathetic that these ubiquitous, and often disposable or overlooked, objects possess. As these mementos and artifacts of the everyday obsolesce, my work questions how the loss of their presence is felt, and why.
In making this work for the last nine years, I have found some answers to these questions and have resolved many of the ideas I was curious about in this work. Objects like the newspaper are very tactile and also dependable and loyal in their daily renewal. Because of the comfort found in ritual and routine we build around the newspaper, the relationship we make to it is not dissimilar to a relationship we would make with another person. By assigning human attributes to the inanimate object, it opens us up to having emotional responses to it. We have a similarly strong emotional response to the material of cloth and to the recognition of time, labor, and care found in a hand-sewn object. Cloth is one of the only textures our body touches and feels so intimately twenty-four hours a day. Its specific tactility and ability to provoke an emotional response is extraordinary, and I have found it an extremely effective and rewarding material to use in my art practice. Because hand-sewing and embroidery are techniques that themselves have somewhat obsolesced, when people recognize the preciousness in sculptural objects made in this manner, they seem to also have a secondary reaction laced with a hint of pathetic-ness- ie, they lament the time lost towards doing such a monotonous and time-consuming activity to make a non-functional thing. The tension between this reaction, combined with the overlapping recognition of both the beauty and worthwhile-ness of the resulting object, lead to a powerful energy that the hand-sewn object exudes.
I began embroidering and sewing with no prior experience outside of doing cross-stitch projects and watching my mom hand-sew Halloween costumes when I was a child. In learning a skill or craft like this, the common rules insist that the student seek perfection- every stitch in line, every knot tied, the back of the embroidery as tidy as the front. I think the actual perfection in the material is found in exactly the opposite of these standards- when the thread tangles or becomes matted and overworked, or where the basting stitch is left to stand on its own; when the fabric wrinkles and twists rather than ironed flat and taut—those moments end up being the most beautiful parts in a piece. The mistakes and the looseness show the human hand and reflect the human spirit, and that’s the perfection.
After honing my skills in the medium through aiming for tedious mimesis and trompe l’oeil representations of carefully collected source material, my stitches and sculpture started to feel too stiff and practiced. I wanted to return the playfulness, joy and also struggle back into my studio-- these were the factors that had led me to choose sewing over painting at the outset of this body of work. At the same time, I was finding that the ‘objects of my day to day life’ that I touched and interacted with were no longer things like the newspaper, but were the materials and tools of my craft- cotton, needles, stuffing, thread.
I began a new body of work exploring the forms and textures and movements I could pull out of these materials themselves, with no source material except the history my hands have made and my knowledge and understanding of the materials that have become innate and instinctual.
The resulting series of sculpture is organic and figural; I hope that the pieces achieve a quirky and funny animation of material and form, while also standing as serious and formal investigations into sculpture, especially the aspect of lightness vs weight. To make each piece, I work from the inside out, starting with perhaps a handful of stuffing and a square of felt, building shapes and gestures that are determined by the material and my own instinct to manipulate it. After a coherent series of structures develops, I then start to carefully upholster, embroider, wrap, weave, felt or embellish over each form individually until it has developed its own identity and posture and thereby, personality. The resulting collection of sculptures has become a family of forms that I hope appeal to the same emotions, tensions, questions and conversation about tactile experience and our impulse to anthropomorphize “things” as my representational work has. I have titled this show and the body of work “Familiars” because that is the recognition of form for which I’ve strived—not quite this and not quite that, but most definitely and very mysteriously familiar.