Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
For nearly twenty years, my primary studio production has been in the form of mixed media quilts. These quilts draw—both visually and conceptually—on the abandoned houses that color the landscape of my North Carolina mountain home. They are constructed using traditional quilting techniques married with digital processes and acrylic paint—a hybrid product that lands at the intersection of fibers, photography, painting and digital media. Although their conceptual purpose is to investigate the narrative past, present and future of these homes and their values, the questions with which I am most often quizzed at exhibitions focus purely on time and technique: “How did you put the image on the fabric?” “Where did you find that abandoned house?” “What kind of printer do you use?” “How long did that piece take?” “How many stitches are in that?” These questions—which I always happily answer—became the seeds of new questions I began asking myself: What is the actual value of the product of my labors? How many stitches—particularly French knots—really are in this thing? What is the true value of a specific stitch, like the French knot? Can I pay for a cheeseburger with French knots? Or, perhaps more appropriately, a craft beer? Does it matter whether or not my hands make the stitches? How does the value change when stitched by another? Is value contained in the product or in the process? How is the value of an idea quantified? Does the hand really matter? And so, I began tentatively answering these questions through my art. Since 2010, I have employed the French knot as the basic unit of measure for the work of the hand. When I am not making quilts, I am stitching (and counting) French knots. These knots are a meditative undertaking for me. My hands make them automatically, freeing my mind to count repeatedly to ten and wander in between. The knots I make are absolutely, completely, entirely and only themselves and only about themselves. They are freed from the weight of imagery. Their existence is self-referential. I make them as the physical embodiment of my own questions about the value of making itself. Each piece is stretched on a frame and finished with manufactured froo-froo lace. This finishing treatment is both a nod to traditional embroidery presentation as well as mild self-mockery of my own ridiculous process. Each piece is titled and priced solely based on the quantity of knots composing it. Quality of design, variety of colors, compositional success, and level of finishing froo-froo-ness have no bearing on their worth. Interestingly, by preemptively answering the numeric questions of my audience, the conversations that arise when these pieces are on display have been elevated. Instead of pure interrogations about time and technique, we discuss how those variables translate into value and worth. We discuss the historic and ongoing undervaluing of traditional “women’s work”. We discuss the comparable valuing of different materials and processes within the art world: painting vs. quilting, photography vs. fabric, stone vs. stitch. We discuss the very definitions of art, craft, and design, and how these definitions limit or celebrate the perceptions of the work created within their parameters.