Tuesday, April 1, 2014
From the archives -- The Actuary's Maps
I rarely make new pieces for a theme challenge, but when there's a call for entries and I just happen to have some nice appropriate work in the pile, I'll dust it off and send it in and see what happens. Last week I dusted off two pieces in response to a call for art about maps and was reminded that I really liked the work.
Two explanations are necessary to understand where these pieces come from. First, the autobiographical narrative. I've always been a math geek but for not-valid-in-hindsight reasons I switched my college major away from numbers to words. But life sometimes gives you what you want and need even if you try hard to avoid it, and I ended up with the perfect job: writing about numbers.
For two decades I worked for a consulting firm that is the world's largest employer of actuaries, and I got to spend a lot of time with some of the most brilliant of them. I speculated that people who work with numbers all day must see the world in a different light, quantifying things that the rest of us only observe. I started making a long series of "actuary quilts" that had numbers printed on top of different compositions.
Second, the process narrative. I had spent a lot of time with dye and discharge and made boxes full of beautiful, enigmatic fabrics that I was struggling to use (aka the surface design dilemma). These pieces were made from the legendary Walmart Black, a cotton that discharged to gray, beloved of many of us in those days before Springs Mills (Walmart's supplier) changed their formula and it started discharging to red. I thought these pieces looked like maps. Map 1 reminded me of barrier islands with narrow causeways; Map 2 looked like a huge factory complex, maybe next to an airport.
The nifty hard-edge geometric marks on the maps came from the clothespins I used to wad up the fabric before it went into the bleach.