Inheritance: makers. memory. myth. was accepted as part of the Alaska State Museum's Solo Exhibition Series, so after finishing at the Anchorage Museum this summer, it re-opened on December 7 in Juneau. I was able to travel there and help install the final tricky pieces, attend the opening with my family and conduct 2 youth workshops. It was so outstanding to see the work in a completely different venue, have a deeper understanding of the process and feel like there's a burnish on the work that comes from the privilege of installing it twice. There are 12 pieces in this body of work, one has sold and will be leaving the collection for its new home in Los Angeles.
I've only been to Juneau a handful of times, but never in the winter. These photos were taken at about 4:30 in the evening...not much different than Anchorage in terms of light this time of year, but for those of you at a lower latitude it might take some getting used to. The bright gallery was a welcome sight.
Some pieces were hung differently in this space.
Others were hung the same.
It still took several hands to install "River," which is 21 feet long.
I gave a talk and slide show on the evening of the opening about personal history, process and my cultural relationship to materials. I don't have a video of this, but I gave a recorded interview you can listen to here. You can also read a version on the Hand/Eye Magazine blog.
I'm excited to share news that the piece, "Descent," (below) was recently accepted into Fiber Art Now's Excellence in Fibers IV in the "Sculptural Works" category. The Anchorage Museum built the beautiful custom light table for it, featuring a diamond-shaped plexiglass window that fits perfectly below the sheer portions of the piece. The electrical cord is brilliantly hidden in the table leg.
Lastly, I led 2 fabulous (and hilarious) kid-filled workshops at the State Museum where we worked with old linens and inserted our own designs and embroideries into the existing handwork, making this old cloth 100% rescued and 100% our own. Their enthusiasm was over-the-top fun to be with.
My gratitude to the many, many people who came together and made this second exhibition and the pieces within it possible. I'm fully aware my work would not exist in this form without the generous donations of rescued or abandoned women's handwork. While the majority of the makers are Unknown and much of their work has gone uncelebrated, I love to think the hours they spent in the making way back when kept those mothers, aunts and grandmothers grounded and sane. I know it's done this for me.
This post is going out right before this exhibition wraps up on February 9, 2019. We'd love for it to come to a venue near you and the Anchorage Museum and I are diligently working on this.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
Three years ago on this blog:
For more of my work, best to follow me on Instagram: @amymeissnerartist
Inheritance is a project I've worked on for nearly 3 years. It began in 2015 when a woman in New York state sent me a box of mystery filled with linens and vintage garments, and based on the response I received from sharing that story online, I officially crowdsourced more household, handmade/hand-embroidered cloth, along with associated stories. I offered to become the final inheritor of it all, even though most of the origins and makers were Unknown.
Also unknown, was what a body of work made from cast off, abandoned, sometimes-unwanted, or even still-loved-but-burdensome objects would look like. Even when I submitted the proposal to the Anchorage Museum in 2016, I had little to show, but must have been convincing in my direction. I gave up so much control over my materials during the course of this project that it's changed the way I work. After 12 years in the clothing industry, I already endure a rocky relationship with clothing and fabric, but after this exercise in mindfulness, strange abundance and deep emotional dives, I have more ways to side-eye run-of-the-mill cloth.
Yesterday, I walked into the fabric store to by 1.3 meters of fabric to back a piece I'm finishing, found exactly what I was looking for, pulled out the bolt, walked 5 steps and stopped. My daughter, age 9, who was with me when I opened that first box of mystery and there for the dozens that followed, said, "I think I understand, mom," and then, "I don't want be in here anymore. Let's go." So I returned the perfect bolt of cloth to the shelf and we walked out the door.
We aren't snobs, we aren't garbage pickers (well, sometimes), but going through this process has put me somewhere in the middle -- somewhere between what can be and what was, between old and new, between shouting and silence, between the beautiful and terrible, between confidence and uncertainty, between hiding everything and baring all.
And always, always existing in the Not Knowing.
Here's something I feel strongly about: theme kills. Entering into a project -- whether writing or visual arts -- with a theme in mind is a mistake. Themes emerge from the Not Knowing and from probing the Living Questions.
My work explores the work of women--literal, physical, emotional. Theme emerges from stomping around on this landscape, turning over rocks, lifting dead things to find new growth, or investigating why that thing shriveled and died in the first place.
These materials could have been debilitating, or narrow. They were. But roaming and poking at every single corner inside those confines is the ultimate freedom.
I pushed against the confines of form and these surface-bound artifacts -- base items made for the bed, the body, the table, the wall -- elevating and lightening them, while at the same time infusing them with weight.
I wanted to look at things we generally don't.
And open up the process to as many other hands as I could.
I met incredible generous people throughout this multi-year process, many of whom I now call friends. Some are traveling to Alaska this summer to see this work installed at the Anchorage Museum.
Eventually I'll share more about each of these pieces -- where the components came from, process images and further thoughts. But the next posts will be about the installation process and museum programming. There are so many things I've learned that will continue shaping how I approach future projects.
I'm so happy with this work, even when I thought it wasn't enough, or too much, or that I shouldn't have started down such a path in the first place.
I'm still wandering around on it, somewhere between lost and found.
Many thanks to Brian Adams for taking these gorgeous photos, to the Anchorage Museum for all of their unfailing support and guidance, to the Rasmuson Foundation and the Sustainable Arts Foundation for funding assistance to do this work.
1 year ago on this blog:
A history of intention. (The piece in this blog, "Fatigue Threshold," is part of this body of work, but is currently touring with Quilt National until October 2019).
2 years ago on this blog:
3 years ago on this blog:
At the end of September I had the rare opportunity to travel to Boston. While my husband attended meetings for 2 1/2 days, I gave myself the gift of much needed alone time, like a 6-hour date with myself at the Museum of Fine Arts, another date with myself at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and a good hard wander through the gallery at the Society of Arts and Crafts. Did I mention we flew a grandma to Alaska to be with children so this could happen? So many moving parts. So hard to get away.
But the highlight of the trip was driving to Lowell on Saturday morning with the Director of the New England Quilt Museum, Nora Burchfield, to visit their current exhibition "Gilding the Lily: Embroidery in Quilts Past & Present." I was invited to exhibit 8 works for this show in my own "pocket" gallery. In the image below, you can see "Reliquary #8: Scroll through the entryway.
This exhibition will be installed until December 30, 2017. It's beautiful.
It was an incredible honor to be surrounded by 200 years of embroidered quilts in a city known for its long textile history, and have the prestige of representing a facet of this art form's contemporary turn. Work from both the Reliquary and Girl Story series are on display.
I didn't photograph everything in the exhibition, but below are a few broad strokes encompassing historic and contemporary work.
I recommend a good hard wander if you're out that way. You, too, might have a whole new shiny outlook.
I also had the opportunity to talk about my work while Caroline Gallagher created a video of this. I haven't seen it yet, but will link to when it's on You Tube.
Thank you Caroline and Nora for coordinating the effort.
Above is a rare reverse view of the suspended work, "Inheritance," featuring doilies used as "batting" between two layers of silk organza. The "quilting" is done with crewel embroidery wool and a darning stitch.
But enough about my work.
Kelly Cline, Lawrence KS "Champagene & Caviar," 2016. Cotton, silk. Hand embroidered vintage textile, hand-guided long arm quilting (left). Rhonda Dort, Houston TX, 2014. "Second Chances," Cottons, vintage linens, trims & doilies, crocheted pieces, buttons, beads, lace & pearls. Hand embroidery, applique, pieced & quilted. Macine embellished and embroidered.
Also, this happened: I ran into fellow Alaskan artist, Beth Blankenship, who happened to be in the museum on the same day, while visiting her daughter in Boston. Must've been the magnetic north pulling us toward one another, even when far from home.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
Three years ago on this blog:
“How to write a sex scene:
I don’t remember completing the sex scene writing assignment. And despite ripping apart my file drawers, I couldn’t find my original notes (neither could my former professor, Jo-Ann Mapson, when I asked her for them over a decade after giving that lecture and assignment — no, we cobbled this list together a few weeks ago based on what we both recalled). And I never wrote a novel, even though I started one and abandoned it after 200 pages.
Nearly every writer has to come to terms with the sex scene, because if your characters are alive, they’re having — or at least thinking about having — sex. It's true. You’ll have to describe it if you want believable characters. The point of Jo-Ann’s lecture was this: make sure the style of the scene is indicative of the type of story you are writing.
Years later, she would send me an old yellow quilt -- not particularly well put together, not loved or cared for, but obviously used hard. Maybe like the unknown woman who made it, or laid beneath.
And it -- she -- spoke to me.
"Fatigue Threshold," made from that quilt, is my sex scene.
I can’t define the style. It’s hard core, but metaphoric. It’s specific, but oblique. Like the construction of the final piece, the style is layered.
But I can tell you this much: it was terrifying to create.
Not the slicing, or the construction or the use of fragile fabrics. Not the time I knew it would take, or all the ways it could go wrong. Not the technical finessing of a sheer border element, or the handwork.
No. What terrified me was releasing the work into the world and having people assume this character, this actual narrative, was mine.
I don't know why this bothered me so much. It happens to fiction writers all the time — readers assume a writer’s characters are autobiographical, and sometimes they are, but most of the time they aren’t, or at least wholly aren’t. Something similar happens with film actors and the roles they portray. It’s difficult to separate the maker from the made.
For me, the distilled quality of a piece and the choice to make what I make, relies on emotional truth.
Emotional truth is the reason why some non-fiction is better represented as fiction, and why some authors will complete one narrative only to repeat it in another genre (think Alice Sebold).
Sometimes the literal truth is too close to the surface of an idea, and it’s better to poke and prod at that fire from a distance, circling from a point where you watch all the sparks disappear into the night. You sense the full scope of flame. You see how it lights up the surrounding foliage.
Stand too close to a fire, and you blister your boots.
I thought about Amelia a lot while I worked on this piece. I considered the triangular bit of crocheted tablecloth Helen sent me for the Inheritance Project, that washing-machine-bleach-ruined scrap of a once larger work Amelia had made while incarcerated. I thought about calling the piece “Amelia.” I wanted to embed her crochet into the layers. I wanted to tell her story, or it’s myth. But I did none of these things, because every time I sidled up to the flames with my purposeful stick, I singed my arm hair. Amelia’s specific story was not only not my story, but I couldn’t even see what the story was while standing right on top of it.
So I found a longer stick, and I duct taped another stick to that one, and I whacked the coals from my vantage point somewhere in the trees until I saw the moment, that spark rising and becoming the wisp of a path to the emotional truth: a woman’s breaking point.
Her fatigue threshold.
“In the study of materials — iron, steel, wood, plastic — fatigue refers to a component’s failure after repeated and excessive loads. It is the crumpled beam, the snapped lever, the bowed wall. This piece explores the landscape of women’s work through the use of abandoned cloth, the female form and traditional handwork, to portray the moment before collapse. The burdens are emotional, physical, sexual, literal. We hoard, we discard, we mend, we make do because despite our destruction, some scrap of beauty can always be salvaged.”
"Fatigue Threshold" is about sex. It’s about abuse. It’s about a moment. It’s about a lifetime. It’s about one woman. It’s about all women. It’s about the monotony of tasks and burdens and the domestic realm and exhaustion and birth and life and despair and the slow death of something once precious.
And it is, to me, incredibly beautiful.
Working with old linens is tricky, because focusing on their beauty alone feels nostalgic. The alternative is to destroy them, but that feels self-indulgent and pointless to the work I’m trying to achieve.
I will always strive to balance the beautiful and terrible. It’s hard, and it’s always on my mind.
I’m one of 85 artists accepted into Quilt National 2017. I’ve never submitted before, but I have 3 hardcover catalogs dating back to 2011, so I’ve been following the exhibition for a long time.
I recently traveled to Athens, Ohio for the exhibition’s opening. I’m incredibly honored to show with such a talented group of artists.
The work will travel until September 2019, so I won’t have this piece for my solo exhibition, which is a shame since it’s an important component to the Inheritance Project. But more people will see it this way, and hopefully they’ll be moved. Maybe they’ll contact me.
If I had to write that sex scene now, at 45 instead of 31 or 32 years old when it was originally assigned, I’d opt for balance. Some raunch, some metaphor, some matter-of-fact language.
Zero cute names.
And I'd do the assignment.
Elsewhere on this blog:
I've been waiting for this photography exhibition.
I've been following it for a year on social media, where one image a day was posted -- portraits on weekdays, images of place on the weekends -- and I've cared about the importance of such an undertaking, not only because I have the privilege of living in Alaska, but also because I have the privilege of knowing the photographer, Brian Adams.
You've obviously noticed by now that I am no photographer. Welding an i-phone at last night's opening does zero justice to this exhibition. Folks, if you live in Anchorage, please visit the Anchorage Museum to see this work in person and read each of the interviews/descriptions alongside the 50 images (out of 500 medium format photographs) curated for this installation in the ConocoPhillips gallery, 2nd floor. For the rest of the world, please visit the I AM INUIT website, where you'll be blown away by the humanity and resonance of this project.
You can also follow I AM INUIT on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook where images and interviews are posted and archived. This exhibition is a part of the Anchorage Museum's Polar Lab series -- "a reflection of the cultural, political, commercial, artistic and scientific attraction exerted by the international Arctic and subarctic" -- which seeks to connect art, science and the environment through various exhibitions and programs.
Brian gave a well-attended talk on the evening of, February 24, 2017, despite the slippery roads and intermittent freezing rain. Alaskans come out to support our artistic community, especially for someone as talented and -- as many of us agreed -- as nice as Brian.
(Even my slinking-terrified-Bethel-rescued-neurotic cat likes him.)
The work will travel from here to various venues, with a goal to travel the exhibition to other circumpolar countries. Follow I AM INUIT to find out where it will be heading next. In the meantime, check out Brian's website for other important work such as Disappearing Villages and Standing Rock-The Black Snake.
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One year ago on this blog: A history of relics.
Two years ago on this blog: Finer.
Other posts about the Anchorage Museum:
AIDS memorial quilt in Alaska.
Sami stories in Alaska.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.