In 2013 I entered "Spontaneous Combustion" in Earth, Fire & Fibre XXIX, a biennial exhibition at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. I'd missed the deadline 2 years prior, when my children were 3 and 5 years old. At the time, missing a deadline had felt like one of so many small failures.
I'd sobbed on the living room floor and told my husband I felt some train barreling towards me and the greatest fear wasn't that it would run me over, but that it would pass right by. Melodramatic? Yes. Hormone induced? Yes. Authentic? Totally.
So I drove all of that emotion into this piece.
And entered two years later.
And won a prize.
And the museum purchased that work.
I waited 13 years to have children. I had two careers, completed three degrees, read all those birthing books before they came into my life.
But no one could tell me how sleep deprivation would affect me personally, or what part of the hormonally-laced spectrum I would slide along after giving birth -- a froth of postpartum anxiety with a sprinkle of postpartum OCD? That sounds about right.
It's all here, in every stitch.
My parents hadn't seen the piece in person and this was the third time I'd made an appointment to bring them to the museum for a visit. I cancelled the first visit when my mother returned from Sweden with pneumonia and couldn't travel to Alaska from the Lower 48. I cancelled the second when my grandmother in Sweden passed away.
Most of the original handwork in this piece came from women in Sweden -- great aunts, a grandmother, a great grandmother -- all gone now. To cut into their work felt sacrilegious one second and cathartic the next. My son and daughter drew all of the images around the border, easily four generations of my family have contributed to this piece.
It's a time capsule.
It's held in the safest place it could possibly reside.
It's hidden from light, from temperature and humidity fluctuations, from my future teenagers who will decide to have a house party featuring all shades of vomit. It's rolled, right side out, around a cushioned bolster wrapped in Tyvek -- a paper-like, polyethylene olefin material that repels moisture and dust, with a slick surface that won't snag fabrics or degrade over time. Since we're nerding out here, you should know that Tyvek can be sewn into bag forms or wrapped around costume hangars or furniture, too. (If you are interested in this material and how conservators use it, you can learn more about it in a post by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which describes the four-year-long rehousing of their costume and textile collection. You could also purchase a 50-yard roll of Tyvek through University Products if you have a little froth of anxiety or sprinkle of OCD, yourself.
As a woman, it's difficult to talk about my early mothering experience without feeling judged, but as an artist, I mine this cave to its depths.
Frankly, artists get judged all the time ... and sometimes they win prizes.
Mothers -- parents -- should receive more prizes, too.
* * *
If you want to learn more about the process of making "Spontaneous Combustion," you can read A history of fire, part 1 and part 2. The Histories category in the blog side bar will take you to a series of other process posts about my work, with a smattering of visual how-to.
Now, go order some Tyvek.
I was recently contacted by the Gynocentric Art Gallery (The GAG, "A gallery that values the brain and cuts the bias") to write a companion essay for the online exhibition of Diana Weymar's recent textile-based work. The GAG is the project of Danielle Hogan, the founding director, who is currently presenting a talk about this project in Barcelona, Spain. My thanks to her for asking me to respond to Diana's work.
I've collaborated with these two women before in the exhibition "Every Fiber of My Being" at the Paul Robeson Gallery at the Arts Council of Princeton, and while I've never met either of them, I connect with their work and writing. Collaborating again felt like a series of streams converging before splitting apart again -- natural, intense, a churn of minerals and distance traveled all melding to create a brand new moment.
Excerpts of the essay are below, and you can read the full essay plus see Diana's exhibition here. I am always considering landscape in my own work and what someone recently described as "insistent work." The idea that the two are connected has been brewing for some time and this essay was an opportunity to grow some flesh on those bones. Diana's thoughts on land and insistence are featured in italics. It's like we were having a conversation face to face, but if we had, we'd have interrupted one another too many times.
Then of course, there'd have been the wine.
The Pull of the Needle:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.