Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Need help from Canada!

I've written before about my ongoing volunteer work to help catalog the International Honor Quilt project, organized by artist Judy Chicago, in which hundreds of panels were made to commemorate women and women's organizations.  Part of my job is to document what the panels look like, and to accurately transcribe any lettering.

I've had to learn how to type characters with diacritical marks (ä, ç, ê, etc.) and in non-Roman alphabets (θ Σ Δ Ω π).  It took me four emails back and forth with my Hebrew advisor to get this one right -- הדסה -- because the type-Hebrew keyboard I found on the internet didn't have names on the letters and I had to find something that looked like the one on the panel, except in a different font so the letters didn't look exactly alike.

Today I need help!  Here's a panel, made in Povuknituk, Québec, (aren't you impressed by that accent mark?) depicting Inuit culture with Inuit words around the edges.  I don't even know which way is up with the characters.

Who knows somebody who could help me (a) translate and (b) type in this lettering for our database?  Many thanks, much glory and maybe even a bit of loot if you can solve my problem du jour.

And while we're here, check out the beautiful embroidery on the central figure!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The four-year-old critic

A couple of weeks ago, Isaac was visiting while I was working on my daily collage, and wanted to know what it was about.

I said she's probably thinking about when she was a little girl.  He contemplated that for a while and decided that was OK.

He looked at the previous day's and when I asked him what it was about, he said the children are thinking about living in a paper house.

Here he said the children are thinking about the map.

And here he said the man is thinking about turning into a sea monster with a curly tail.

I was intrigued that he so quickly accepted the idea that the people in the scene are thinking about something else in the scene, and indeed decided that was the model for all the collages.  It often pays to run your art past a four-year-old mind and see what response you get!

P.S.  When he saw this one, he didn't have an interpretation.  All he could say was "She doesn't have any underwear!!!!!"

Check out all my daily collages here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Mending Project 9

I promise this will be the last time I write about The Mending Project.  Faithful readers will recall that I've been dithering since Day 1 about whether it was worthwhile, not to mention about whether it was art.  I mentioned the other day that the concept of art being the making of objects is a definition way too restrictive for the postmodernists, and that includes a lot of museum directors and curators.

That's why you'll see museums all over the place, not just here, trying to become places for encounters. While I was on duty mending, I observed a poetry slam as well as three different "family fun" days on which special activities were offered.  Our museum has converted a bunch of prime real estate into a "maker space" where kids can make stuff.  (Oh wait, making stuff is so nonpostmodern.... I guess it's OK for kids, if not for artists.)

The curators of our show say they were thrilled at all the conversations between menders and visitors, and think they might want to do something similar in the future.

That's all fine, and I guess any society benefits when strangers are able to have pleasant conversations with one another.  But is this supposed to happen in a museum as opposed to a church, library or community center?  A big part of me thinks that facilitation of conversation is too trivial, too universal, to undifferentiated, too generic to warrant rewriting the mission of a museum.  There should be some qualitative difference between being a volunteer at a museum and being a volunteer at a nursing home, for instance.

I enjoy and take pride in the various occasions where I can spend some pleasant time with a stranger, especially if the conversation can go beyond the most superficial level.  But I don't call it art.  I am a maker, always have been, always will be as long as I can hold a needle or a paintbrush or a scissors or a glue gun.  When I can't make things I don't think I qualify as an artist.

It's oh so trendy for the hipsters and the critics and the curators to call it art when "artists" hang out with other people or invite some people over for dinner or set out paper for people to write letters on or tell the museum guards to shout out headlines from the newspaper.  I'm usually pretty open to offbeat and weird things being defined as art, but my tolerance stops before this point.

So my bottom line on The Mending Project is that first, the installation -- the beautiful walls of thread and the (small) piles of mended garments -- is probably art.  It belongs in a museum; it was nice to look at.  Maybe not the strongest work you'll ever see in a museum, but I've seen worse.

OK, this is art

Second, when the menders stitched onto garments, either the ones that got piled on the table or the ones that were worn out the door, it might or might not be art.  Even though I would not define it as art when I mend my son's shorts, I guess I'll give our production a grudging pass, because it was done while sitting in the real-art installation.

maybe art, if you're feeling charitable

definitely not art

Third, having nice conversations with people is not art, even if it's done while sitting in the real-art installation.

By these definitions, of the 30 hours I spent on duty in the museum, I was probably making art for less than 10, and most of them were spent on things that I had brought in myself, unrelated to mending.  The project did prompt me to do a lot of serious thinking and questioning about what is art and what I think is valid for me do do as an artist.  But on balance I think the project stacks up as a waste of my time, not to mention a wasted opportunity for the museum in general.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  What do you think?  Was I nuts to spend so much of my summer on this project?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Mending Project 8

Volunteers at the Mending Project kept a log of what we did, and one of the first things I would do when arriving for a shift would be to read the log and see what happened since I was there last.  One afternoon I read the following:

"This is such a strange log of people sitting in the same chair doing nothing.  There may not be any mending, but what IS happening?"

Great question.  As I was thinking about it, I noticed that somebody had brought in a bunch of upholstery swatches; in fact, I used one to patch a pair of jeans that had been left on the table.

I had an idea: I detached one of the small swatches and started to stitch on it, and left it with a challenge to the other volunteers:

"To my fellow menders:  I read Evan's log entry for 6-4-15 where he asks "What IS happening?"  I think we are building a community -- not with people in torn pants, but among ourselves!  If you're not mending, would you add some stitches to my swatch and make collaborative art?  Thanks!"

And over the next three months, they did, turning the busy but drab swatch into an explosion of color from the shiny mending threads.  By the time the show closed early this month, the swatch looked pretty flashy.

I want to mount it and keep it as a -- gasp -- object!!!! even though that isn't very post-modern of me.  It will take a little work to make it lie flat (that isn't very post-modern either, worrying about craftsmanship) so maybe I'll stretch it a bit and stitch it to a canvas.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Mending Project 7

I've written through the summer about an installation at the Kentucky Museum of Art + Craft in which volunteers mend or embellish garments brought (or worn) in by visitors.  The project bears the name of a certifiably Famous International Artist, Lee Mingwei, but he was only there to oversee the setup before leaving town for a big career retrospective in Taiwan, his birthplace.

Since then, the art, or performance, or whatever you want to call it, has been conducted by the locals, including me.  I've been a bit doubtful all along as to the worth of this project; read about my angst in previous posts here.  Last week I was required to consolidate my thoughts in preparation for a program at our local fiber and textile art group.  Ramona Lindsay, the education director of KMAC, is also a member of our group and she participated in the discussion, which gave us a view from the other side of the institutional landscape.

We all agreed that "relational aesthetics," the critic-speak for this kind of art installation, is something that traditional museum-goers may not understand.  It's very postmodern, with "art" being defined far more broadly than the making of objects; now "art" includes a wide variety of encounters between artists and others.  This may go over just fine in Brooklyn, where the hipsters are up on postmodernism, but not so much in Louisville.  Not only is our proportion of postmodern hipsters much lower than Brooklyn's, but we're applying the proportion to a much smaller population.

Lee envisioned that the encounter would be a meeting and conversation prompted by the presentation of a garment to be mended, and while the mending was going on, bonds and connections would be forged.  But that's not what happened.  Most of the actual mending we did was on garments brought in by museum staffers (who couldn't sit and talk with me) or sent in by our own friends to be mended in absentia.

What happened instead was that we started sewing embellishments onto the clothing of people who visited, and had lovely conversations with them.  Or we just had the lovely conversations with no mending at all involved.

Ramona said at the program that the staff and curators had been closely tracking the way the project was morphing into Plan B, and they were happy about the way the visitors were responding.

I asked her to take back a challenge to her museum colleagues: why not do a similar project again, except eliminate the high-priced Famous International Artist and just contract directly with the local volunteers, who were doing all the work.

Monday, September 21, 2015

STITCH at Morehead 4

One of the biggest pieces on display at the STITCH show was this quilt:

Gena Mark, X Squared Interrupted (details below)

I wasn't sure how to interpret the story in this piece.  It looks to be a family tree, with two unhappy women branching off from a bowl of fruit.  But I loved the use of varying techniques and mediums.

Painting, braiding:

Hand stitching:

Quirky appliques:

For me, this was a piece where the whole was less than the sum of the parts.  But it made a big visual impact, and it had a bold self-confidence that I like to see in fiber art.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Photo suite 195 -- the bridge goes up

They're building a new bridge over the Ohio River for Interstate 65, and those of us who love to watch construction going on have a catbird seat from the pedestrian bridge just upriver.  Here's how the middle and highest tower has gone up over the last two years.  They expect to have traffic going over the new bridge by Christmas.

December 2013

March 2014

June 2014

January 2015

May 2015


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Life imitates art 7

Yesterday afternoon I was sewing and watching the first episode of the new season of Dancing With the Stars, one of my guilty trash-TV pleasures.  When I heard my husband clattering pots and pans up in the kitchen I realized it was dinnertime, so I switched off DWTS and went up to cook.  On the upstairs TV the Republican candidates "debate" was about to begin and I realized -- it was just like Dancing With the Stars!

The same dark, TV-blue set, with sparkly lights in the stratosphere. The same gently curved array of hopefuls, nervously facing the audience.  A flashy prop hanging from the roof -- a mirror ball on one set, Air Force One on the other.  (Sorry, I had to crop out the mirror ball from the photo.)

But most striking, the same atmosphere -- the announcer barely able to contain his grave excitement, the suspenseful music, the camera zooming in on celebrities in the crowd, the on-scene reporters earnestly discussing the prospects of various contestants with random "expert observers."  There were little up-close-and-personal vignettes of the contestants.  There were opportunities for the viewing audience to call in and vote for their favorites.

There were reminders to stay tuned: "If you thought that Round 1 was intense, you haven't seen anything yet!"  (That was from the debate, not the dancing.)  There were commercials (the debate was brought to you by a remedy for toenail fungus).

If you have thought that the presidential campaign, at least at this point, seems to have way more entertainment content than public policy, this may support your argument.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

STITCH exhibit at Morehead 3

A few more things I liked at the STITCH exhibit -- today's technique is felting.

Here's a small piece that makes a big impression with very modest means; it's small, it's subtle, it's straightforward, it's stunning!  A little hand stitching and a few beads are the only embellishments to the beautifully rendered portrait.

Adrian Blackstock, Betty Lou (details below)

Here's a piece by a friend of mine, Christine Levitt, who has a special affinity for maps and charts.  A couple of years ago we attended the same workshop and Christine brought a big supply of gorgeous old geological survey maps, which she graciously shared with some of us.  I've been in her debt ever since!

Here she uses the maps to cover the frame, and sets a map-like piece of felt inside.  Machine stitching adds a grid that resembles latitude and longitude lines, with glass beads accentuating the grid.

Christine Levitt, Seeding the Plains, detail below. 

I only wish the glass hadn't made it hard to photograph.  Yes, I know that glass protects fragile textiles from light and dust, but it also puts a layer of glare in between the work and the viewer.  I always wonder if it's worth the trade-off.

Monday, September 14, 2015

STITCH exhibit at Morehead 2

More things I liked from the STITCH exhibit at Morehead State University, which closed last month.  Two pieces by Lorie McCown were similar only in that they're made with raw edge machine applique; one was geometric, one figurative; one also had hand stitching, one didn't.  It's unusual for artists to enter, and for jurors to select, different pieces that don't "match" in character and technique, and while these two weren't all that far from one another, I did have to go back and check my photos twice to make sure I got it right.

I liked both quilts for their jaunty character and sophisticated color palettes; the machine-stitched line is confident.  But in the year between the two quilts (earlier is shown first) I think McCown made some big strides.

Lorie McCown, Encroachment (detail below)

Lorie McCown, My blue dresses (detail below)

I saw McCown's work for the first time at Quilt National this spring, where she used the dress motif in a much larger and more complex composition, incorporating other fabrics as well as cotton.  The dresses seem a lot more intriguing than the plain old squares, and by the time she got to the QN piece she was incorporating a lot of different images as well.

I like her work a lot and it was good to be able to see a progression.  I'll be on the lookout to see what she does next!

More on the STITCH show in subsequent posts.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I'm (semi-) famous

Our local alternative weekly has a feature about me that didn't make it to print but is posted on their website.  Check it out here.

Crossroads 4

They chose this quilt to illustrate the story.  It's one of my favorites that is way too old to go out to the quilt shows any more, but it's nice at least to see its picture.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

STITCH exhibit at Morehead State University 1

For a couple of years now, the Claypool-Young Art Gallery at Morehead State University in Morehead KY has had an interesting practice for its large exhibits, which draw artists from all over the state and beyond.  Instead of having an opening reception, it holds a closing reception on the last night of the show -- which means you can come see the show, have some cheese and crackers, hear the juror's talk, then take your work down from the wall and take it home.  What a pleasant opportunity, especially if your work is too big to ship comfortably!

The down side is that if I write about the show on my blog, it's too late for me to urge you to see it.  But I'll write about it anyway.  The show was "STITCH: A Regional Contemporary Art Textile Exhibition," open to artists in 12 states, generally centering on Kentucky. The Kentucky Surface Design Association chapter was a co-sponsor, and Susan Shie was the juror.

Today, an artist I have not run into before is Helen Geglio, from South Bend IN.  She had three beautiful works in the show, all of them hand stitched onto linen grounds, with little raw-edge appliques and reverse appliques of vintage cotton prints.

Helen Geglio, Cumulus (detail below)

Helen Geglio, Lost Art of Mending 2

Helen Geglio, Dispersal (detail below)

Some of the stitching is plain old running stitch, but other areas use fancier embroidery.  Most of the edges are raw and fraying; most of the fabrics look used and faded; the pieces are meditations on mortality.   I wish I had made this work.

More tomorrow.