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July 13, 2009
The Wardrobe Project: MFA Report
For those who are interested, and as requested an obscene amount of time ago, I have uploaded a .pdf file of my thesis report: get it here. Please feel free to download a copy, read it, send me comments, point out typos (I hope I found them all!), print it out and make beautiful drawings all over it and then send me a page in the mail; you name it. Just please don't post it or any part of it on the web or anywhere else without my permission. Not that any of my lovely thesis blog followers would do such a thing.
April 28, 2008
March 22, 2008
a long day
Today I woke up from a night of feverish, worried dreams to find that I'd somehow sweated out all that worry in the night, and got out of bed in that state of calm that so often happens when a deadline is so inevitable and so close that you no longer have the time to procrastinate, to make food or have conversations or do anything but work, work, work right up to that deadline. It's a strangely quiet out-of-body feeling, like when your ears pop and all sounds come to you as if through water. I worked, steadily, filling in the dress tags with the typewriter, folding and collating pages for the books, arranging all of the book images (yes, that's right, I still have to pretty much make those books tomorrow, all twenty of them). I helped Jessica to frame her large prints, and we felt so confident that we even made wheat starch paste for her hinges from scratch (from flour!) and ate lunch away from the studio. I carefully measured and cut my book cloth pieces for hanging the maps, cut wood, drilled holes in dowels and put little pieces of waxed linen cord through them. And then I started gluing the whole thing together, and disaster struck. Well, near disaster. The hanging system I had envisioned for the prints is not going to work. Or rather, it would have worked but it would have taken me all night and cost me my sanity and more importantly would have looked like utter crap, unprofessional and half-assed and lumpy. So I made a snap decision (with Jessica's counseling) and made some changes. The installation method that references maps has had to be scrapped, and so I now don't have to make that map legend (that's right, I hadn't done that yet either) because it no longer makes sense for it to be that literal. The dress tags won't make sense on the maps either and so will now be on the dresses, which I think will actually be much better and will better help viewers understand what they're looking at when they flip through the books (which are images presented with only stamped dates, no text). I feel good about this.
Tomorrow, then, I will get up in the morning and put on a project dress for the last time. I will make the books. Prepare the dresses. Finish stamping dates on the dress tags and attach them to the dresses. Reassemble the drawers. Then Monday morning, a few brief errands downtown, box up the books and dresses, wrap the cabinets in bubble wrap. And take it all to the Museum and forget all about it until I go in and install it on Tuesday. What am I going to be doing on my blissful Monday night of freedom? Spinning up one of the leftover big prints on kozo with a borrowed spinning wheel, in time to bring it along to this week's conference as my knitting project for the van ride: a lace wrap that I will wear to the exhibition opening.
March 19, 2008
checklist, march 19
After today, there are only four days left in The Wardrobe Project. I have three dresses waiting to be worn one more time: #7, #19 and #20. Tomorrow or Friday I will print dress #3 a final time and wear it Sunday, the last day, since it's the oldest dress still in the project.
Cabinets are painted but for one more coat on the inside of the drawers. Hanging hardware for the maps has been picked up, not yet assembled. Building a table has been removed from my list; Stacy Isenbarger, a second year sculpture grad, is building me a steel table frame (because she's fabulous like that). The books are still barely started: paper has been cut and I'm working tonight on getting the images ready so that I can print at least some of them (all of them if they'll all fit on my usb drive thing at once) tomorrow. I still have to fill in the dress tags and print the map legend (this will be silkscreened instead of letterpress printed, so that it will match the tags, which are silkscreened). It's starting to sound scary but is still quite doable in the time that is left.
The large prints are finished and I've finally settled on which two I'm going to use. I already cut down some of the others and printed a bit more on them this morning, in hopes of having something new to show in the open portfolio session at the Southern Graphics Council conference next week, since I can't take any of my thesis work with me. The last two large prints I'll be cutting into long strips over the weekend and spinning on a borrowed wheel; these will become a knitted wrap that I'm hoping to wear to the exhibition opening (I'll be taking this as my travel knitting project to SGC, and should have plenty of time on the road there and back to make some good progress on it).
I talked before about making some sort of transition dress to wear for the first week after the project, beginning on the day I deliver the work to the Museum and then wearing it all through the conference. Although I bought fabric for it yesterday, I've changed my mind about this. I just don't want to wear a dress anymore, or to be obligated to wear a certain dress. Instead I'm going to get out the skirts I made at the beginning of the project and wear them all week with regular shirts, because I still don't feel quite ready to go back to just wearing regular clothes altogether. I think I'll continue to take daily photos, at least until the exhibition opening (for which I am making a special dress).
Next on the agenda after these next four days of frantic work: writing my thesis. I have a meeting about that tomorrow, but to be honest I really haven't done any writing at all, having decided a while ago just to leave that until after the studio component is finished. I'm currently reading Anne Hollander's Seeing Through Clothes and Richard Shusterman's Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. Any other suggestions at this time from those of you who've been following the project would be much appreciated.
March 13, 2008
Here is the list of things that need to get done before I deliver my work to the museum on the 24th:
-finish two large prints (really only an hour or two of work, tops, just a few more layers of solid colour for the most part) one is finished and two others are close, I just need to print them one more time and then decide which of the two I'm using
-print a map legend (letterpress);for this I still need to get downtown and buy paper and carve a couple of little lino blocks
(or make photopolymer plates if I can remember how to use the platemaker) I decided to use type-high lino blocks after all, I can't be bothered to deal with our ancient and temperamental platemaker when I'm on a deadline
silkscreen 20 tags (done), then fill them out (with typewriter and date stamp)
clean out cabinets (done), sand, paint
-build a little table for the cabinets to rest on (not as big a project as it sounds)(still need to pick up materials)
-assemble hanging system for prints (need to buy pvc pipe, dowel)(can't finish this until book cloth order comes in)
-make 20 books (again, not as big a job as it sounds, probably two full days work)
(need to buy paper for this too) I'm waiting for a paper delivery for some other books and have decided to skim off some of that paper for this rather than pay the ridiculous local prices
-and of course continue to print, wear and document dresses until the last day, March 23 (last day before delivery of work)
I also have to make an extra dress to wear the first week after the project ends, to help me transition. And finish some of the other prints I've been working on so that I have something new to show at the Southern Graphics conference, which starts two days after the work goes to the museum. Then when I get back from the conference I'll have a week to make my dress for the opening. And THEN, I'm going to sleep for two days straight.
Here are the tags I silkscreened, not yet filled in:
I'm going down to the faculty lounge tomorrow to use the typewriter to fill these in so they'll look like they came out of an old library. Then I'll stamp the dates in the spaces. These will go in a grid in the lower corner of one of the maps in place of a legend. Here's the schematic I sent to the museum of how it's all going to come together:
The cabinet in the centre is going to be smaller than shown, about 15 inches wide. There are twenty drawers, and in each drawer will be a dress and a book. I've also got some little cards viewers can take that will direct them to this website so that they can view this phase of the project. What's going into the museum is just the artifacts, neatly categorized.
February 11, 2008
I have a confession to make.
When I went home for the midwinter break I decided that I would stop date stamping the dresses until I got back to school, because I didn't have the right ink at home, didn't want to get on an airplane with a can of ink in my luggage, and wasn't sure how I'd clean up from it every day anyway. Printing the dresses at home, kneeling on the floor rubbing the woodblocks by hand, was bad enough. So I left it, intending to backdate each dress in January.
Well. I completely slacked off, and didn't date stamp the dresses at all in January. Not just the back dates from the holidays but the daily stampings went out the window as well, as having gotten out of the habit I just couldn't get myself back into it. Which means that this morning, in preparation for my meeting with the curators of our thesis exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art this afternoon, I backdated all of the dresses that have been retired since early December, plus the dress I'm wearing today. I also re-stamped a few dates that had been completely obscured by ink, which is why you can see some November dates in the photo above, where I tested the stamp all over the inking slab.
There, I said it. For the aspect of the project that is all about routines, schedules, and rituals, this is a serious offence. But this project is about me, and my way of working (and attempting to establish these routines in my studio practice). It's not something I was good at before I started, and it's been hard to change my way of working overnight. Often I print enough dresses to last me a week and then the very next week I wait until the last day and print knowing that if I don't, I'll have nothing to wear tomorrow (then I come in to the studio earlier than usual, take a dress off the drying rack and get dressed right there in the print shop). I know it looks like things are just chugging right along when all I do is keep uploading photos, but sometimes, especially in the last month as I get ready to bring the project to a close, I've been frustrated, lazy, even bored, and sometimes I just really want to put on jeans and a t-shirt.
The project has affected my life in ways I wasn't expecting. Last year I lived about 2.5 miles away from the studio and rode my bike every day. Having to commute this way made me reconsider a lot of my clothing choices: I could no longer wear a certain pair of jeans that were a little tight in the thighs, or my beloved bellbottom corduroy trousers, or my short straight skirts, because they got in the way of riding. I had to embrace the leggings-under-skirt trend so as not to show my rear end to the frat boys who lived all along the route I took. I started wearing my trouser cuffs rolled up all the time, and started buying only skirts that were full and pleated.
The beginning of the Wardrobe Project coincided with my move to an on-campus apartment three minutes away from my studio, so I no longer had to ride every day. The longer two of the three dress lengths I chose get in my way while riding, something I didn't think about while making them because it wasn't a necessity anymore. Wearing the footless leggings beneath the dresses in the colder weather has meant that I wear my boots more often to keep my ankles warm, and boots aren't comfortable for bike riding. And so I don't ride my bike at all anymore; I don't need it for school, but I also walk to get groceries when I used to ride. I don't take bike rides for pleasure either, because I still have the problem of choosing between freezing cold ankles or inappropriate footwear (now that spring is coming this will change, and I'm planning to start going for bike rides again in the next week or two).
And so since August I have gained nearly ten pounds. Now, my tendency to slip into an unhealthy grad school lifestyle is a big part of this as well, but last year I was able to offset my poor eating habits with the daily riding. The dresses are all cut exactly the same, and no longer fit me the same way they did at the beginning of the project. And so it goes.
To get back to the date stamping for a moment: I've been thinking about my laziness and what it means to the project, and I could have just kept my mouth shut, faked it and moved on. I thought about doing that. But this project has become for me a sort of practice run at how I'll organize my life when I'm no longer in graduate school, when I don't have the deadlines of the school year and a committee to answer to. I don't want to spend my career hushing up my mistakes, faking it, not owning up to who I am and what sort of artist I am (can be). So I'm laying it all out here in an attempt to keep my project honest, maintain its integrity. I screwed up one of the major aspects of the project due to poor work habits. I'm correcting that mistake now, and moving on.
February 03, 2008
dress #17, state 6 (printed january 26, 08)
I haven't been very good about keeping up with the writing here, and I have a lot of thoughts I want to get down, especially as it seems the project will soon be coming to a close. In a way it's fitting, as this work is a reflection of my daily life, and I've let life get in the way of reflecting, here, in writing, on the work. But that's a cop-out. I'm working to get the daily photos caught up, and should be there in a day or two; then I'll get my thoughts together and write.
I think I might be just about done with this dress, I'm just so in love with the way the pockets look.
January 13, 2008
january 6, 08 (dress #9, state 12, printed january 3 07)
I did it again, forgetting to photograph the dress before printing it again. I don't even have being out of the studio and having my routine disrupted as an excuse this time; the dress was right there in the pile with the others, and I thought I'd photographed them all.
I'm planning to put together a book for each dress as part of the museum installation, and I'm not sure yet what to do about the states that don't have photos. Sketches? Empty dotted outlines? That seems a bit lame. Torn out pages would be better, maybe.
The camera will take ten continuous shots, and the first one often looks like this as I press the shutter and dash to my spot. I like the way some of these look: nothing but the dress, or part of the dress, and blurry movement. I'm going to try to start including images of the dresses in less controlled, less contrived situations, so I'll start by posting some of the daily outtakes.
December 06, 2007
new thoughts on georgia museum of art installation
When I began the Wardrobe Project I had grand ideas of building an elaborate home interior in the museum, with a comfortable chair (upholsetered with my printed fabrics), printed wallpaper, framed prints hanging on top of that wallpaper, a printed floor covering, a table next to the chair with all of the print/sketch books stacked on it for perusal. And a closet with the dresses in it. Total sensory overload. As the project progressed I realized that this whole construction was unnecessary and confusing, and dropped the idea.
The real space where this work exists is in the daily performance of wearing, and in this web space where the documentation is collected. For me right now the upcoming show in the museum is secondary (in terms of showing this particular work; this is not to say I don't take the museum exhibition seriously). But putting the artifacts on display in a museum is not the primary focus of this project, where the doing is the work.
About a month ago I revisited the "living space" installation idea, thinking that perhaps I could winnow it down to just the closet with the dresses hanging inside. I envisioned hanging tags on the dresses, with space to write in the dress number, reason for retirement, and the date stamps of all the days the dress was worn. Still this felt like it would reduce my project to something that's just about fashion (which it's not, really, at all). I feared the tags might make it seem to speak more to commercialism and look as if the dresses are for sale. I'd envisioned these tags resembling the date due slips in the backs of library books, but hanging them from the dresses is not going to give that impression.
Discussions with my colleagues and Peter about the problem of how to show this work tend to revolve around catalogueing more than around display. The documentation contained in this web site needs to be a part of the final installation, but I'm not willing to bring the web site itself into the museum space, because the site is an entirely different art venue that should be able to stand on its own without the validation of the museum. And, as I've said, the web is the true exhibition space for this aspect of the work.
And so the discussion has moved on to boxes. Drawers. Shelves. Ways of sorting and organizing, categorizing. And the other day I dragged out my eight large prints on tokuatsu that I stopped working on on October, the prints that are supposed to function as maps to this entire project. I'd tentatively called three of them finished, posted them as such on the web and even sent off slides of them. But I don't think they're really finished yet. At the moment they contain a collection of marks that catalogue the damage caused to woodblocks when run through the press with dresses, but I just don't think there's enough there. So I'm going to begin printing on them again, collecting more layers of dress impressions. I'm going to interleave these impressions with wood intaglio printed from newly cut blocks (it's been two months since I cut a new block!). And the documentation, the tags, the date stamps will all be within these prints.
My vision for the museum installation right now is this: there will be two of these large prints (36 x 78 inches) on the wall, backed with book cloth and hung with school map hardware. Between the two "maps" will sit a wooden cabinet of map drawers. Each drawer will contain a folded dress with its documentation. The web site will not be mentioned. The museum installation will be a place to map the project, record the performance and the making in one place, and to catalogue and organize the fossils left behind by the project, the ink-covered dresses.
November 24, 2007
new statement, november 24 07
The Wardrobe Project is an attempt to blur the lines between work and daily life, between the ritual of getting dressed each day and the rituals performed in the artist’s studio, between the body and its coverings. Beginning on the 16th of August 2007 and projected to continue at least through May 2008 (thus encompassing my final year of graduate studies), the work is a uniform that defines the artist, a daily ritual performed, documented and reflected upon.
The Wardrobe Project is a cycle of eight dresses, first sewn, then printed, then worn, then photographed, then printed again. Each dress is worn only once before being irrevocably altered with another layer of ink; each photograph stands as the only documentation of the work as it existed on the day of wearing. As printed layers build up, imagery beneath is obscured, blurred, buried. Ink stiffens the fabric, making it heavy; solvents used in the printing will eventually break down the fabric. Yet ink also protects the fabric, makes it stronger: as layers build up the dresses become impervious to water and stains. Wearing and washing the dresses softens and fades the inks; the normal wear and tear that clothing endures will lead to the destruction of the printing at the same time that the printing is bringing about the destruction of the clothes.
The body, at once both the vehicle for the work and the object of the work’s eventual destruction, is explicitly referenced in The Wardrobe Project through the printing of images of the artist’s body on the dresses; the body is clothed with images of the unclothed body. A frontal figure is simultaneously printed on the front of a dress and on its back so that when the artist/wearer’s back is turned from a viewer, rather than the artist/wearer becoming a passive recipient of the viewer’s gaze, the gaze is subverted and thrown back by the facing figure.
Interleaved with images of the artist’s body in The Wardrobe Project are printed images taken from satellite maps of the artist’s home and the industrial city that surrounds it. A place defined by labour and manufacturing, it inspires an approach to the act of making that thrives on rules, schedules, daily rituals and documentation. Manual labour, implicit in the repetitive acts of cutting, sewing, and printing of the dresses, is made explicit in the cut of the dresses themselves, their simple lines, bib fronts and large pockets calling to mind the classic work apron.
An exercise in living each day as an embodiment of one’s studio practice, The Wardrobe Project (and its companion work, The Sketchbook Project, in which prints, daily drawings and lists are collected into books) is carefully documented and presented via the internet for public consumption. The Wardrobe Project is an ongoing exploration of art as ritual, art as daily life, art as costume; it is a map for a way of living and a way of making.
October 31, 2007
observations: october 31, 07
I have been really terrible at writing things down here, instead saving them all up in my head until inevitably some fall so far back into the dusty places that they're irretrievable. Combatting this was one of the main reasons I began keeping this record in the first place. It's much easier just to put up a few photos each day and leave it at that. So, then, here are some of my thoughts on this past month of my project:
In the midterm critique with the print grads the subject of my apron came up; specifically the relationship between the dresses and work, the reason I chose to use a style of dress that appears utilitarian and references aprons with the bib bodice, shoulder straps and large pockets. My colleague Jessica said, "you're still wearing an apron?" and I realized that I hadn't really considered the fact that I was wearing a dress that stands in for an apron (working clothes) and then still putting an apron on over it when actually working (printing, and also teaching since I'm often giving printing demos in class). Wearing the apron is a part of my working ritual that hadn't entered my mind. Since then I haven't been wearing my apron, instead letting the evidence of my working life show itself on the dresses as I splash solvents, accidentally lean against the inking slab or brush my hand on my skirt. It makes much more sense this way.
I've begun to notice differences in the effects certain inks and additives have on the way the print holds up on the dresses; the studio provides Graphic Chemical etching inks, which seem to fade more quickly in the wash. I've begun to use Faust inks (which I prefer) for some colours, and those colours (and the colours in which I've mixed Faust and Graphic Chemical inks together) seem to hold up a little better. But on October 19th I printed a number of dresses with a layer of a pale gray (which looks white in the photographs) using Faust Mixing White and a tiny amount of Graphic Chemical Graphite. This ink didn't hold up to washing at all and disappeared almost entirely from one dress (#4), even though the Graphic Chemical Graphite colour usually holds up better than any other GC inks. I have yet to print using just Graphic Chemical white to see if it holds up better than the Faust.
I'm trying to only wash the dresses once every two weeks now, which means I will print them twice and wear them twice between washings. This is in part due to our current water shortage, which has become somewhat of an emergency situation due to drought in the region that's the worst on record (this is where necessity comes into the mix again). I'm hoping that as a result the ink will get crustier on the dresses, since I'm now building up two layers before it gets softened by washing. So far there's no real difference, which leads me to wonder if this fabric is just going to keep accepting ink forever without ever getting stiff. Perhaps I should try not washing them at all, but that's not really practical as I still have to maintain a professional life and still have to teach class twice a week, and the smell of fresh ink on the dresses is bad enough without adding in the smell of unwashed clothing. What seems to be happening instead is that each subsequent layer is adhering less permanently to the fabric. Now that I think of it, this may have more to do with the white Faust ink sloughing off of dress #4 in the wash, as this dress is one of the ones most thickly encrusted with ink. I'll be able to tell for sure after a few more weeks and will try to keep more careful track of what's going on with dresses #3 and #4, which are the oldest. Dress #3 is cotton and dress #4 is a cotton/polyester blend, which probably affects how the ink feels; dress #3 is definitely much softer.
Last week I travelled to Gainsville State College to give a visiting artist lecture about my work to two art appreciation classes (taught by a friend and former fellow grad student). The students are not fine art majors and are required to take the class as one of their arts electives. I found that while talking about the wardrobe project in conceptual terms I was met with a lot of blank stares, and the students seemed most engaged when they had a chance to look through my little sketchbooks. This worries me a little, because I've been operating under the assumption that this current work is pretty accessible to people outside the artworld. Am I wrong? Most of the feedback I've had from non-artworld people has been from fibre people, people who are interested in clothing and people who knit, so there's a chance my perception of how an audience perceives this work is a bit skewed. Oddly enough, one student approached me and the instructor at the end of my talk and said that his wife is an artist too, then showed us a series of photos on his cell phone of her work, beautiful tiered cakes with amazingly complex and ornate embellishments and little sculptures made of cake and sugar. So it's not a narrow perception of what "art" is that held the students back, at least not all of them. Perhaps I'm just not as engaging a speaker as I think I am.
October 05, 2007
dress #10, state 1
I'm breaking my own rule already, and have more than eight dresses on the go right now (there's one more new one to come tomorrow for a total of eleven, minus dress #1 which has already been retired). This was necessary in part because I'm spending a week visiting home for Thanksgiving and needed to have enough to wear, and because when I return to school I will need to put several dresses in the mail to be photographed for a magazine, and I wasn't going to have enough dresses removed from the project by then. So I've got ten now, and next week I'll retire two or three of them and send those off with dress #1, bringing myself back on track with a week's worth of garments. I agonized a bit about breaking the rules, but really I'm making them up as I go along and can't afford to give up good press for the project in order to stick to rules that right now are still a bit arbitrary. Once I'm settled back at studio next week I'll stick to the eight dresses a week plan, and figure out the easiest way for me to print dresses at home during the midwinter break (about three weeks) so that I don't have to break the rules again.
Another new dress today. The front:
September 21, 2007
I was talking with Peter the other night about my project, and he brought up necessity as something for me to consider; how does this artificial limitation on what I can wear (and when) relate to the not-so-recent past in which people often had only one or two sets of clothes (and one of those reserved for Sunday)? When you are forced by necessity to wear the same clothes every day, wear and tear becomes evident very quickly, and near-daily maintenance can be required to keep those clothes wearable. I have been feeling that I don't have enough limits in my project, and the days when I wear store-bought t-shirts with the skirts I feel wrong, like I'm not working hard enough, like I'm not getting enough into the spirit of living in my work. I want to see changes happen in the pieces, I want them to grow more quickly into whatever it is they're going to grow into. I want to be an artist walking around forced to think about my work every moment of every day, because I can smell the ink on me or because I can feel the stiffness of the ink buildup on my dress (or my sweater). I don't want to be just someone walking around wearing weird clothes, because this project isn't really about that.
So from now on I'm not going to be wearing the eight skirts or two tops that I made any more, although I will hang on to them in case of an emergency in which I don't have anything else ready to wear (if I can properly establish a working routine and stick to it, this shouldn't happen). I currently have six dresses. I will add two more to bring that number to eight. This will allow me one week's worth of things to wear, plus an extra to wear on "wash day". Once a week, I will launder seven of the dresses. Once a week, I will print on or otherwise alter seven of the dresses. And once a week I will choose one dress that I consider "finished", setting it aside and not wearing it again; I will make a new dress to fill the place in the cycle of each retired dress. By doing this I will be able to gather a number of works for exhibit later on, while the limited number of pieces in the wearing cycle will allow for each piece to be printed and altered more often. I will continue to limit myself to variations on the same basic dress shape, for uniformity.
As for sweaters: I will be making a series of pullovers (again, of a uniform design) that I will print from and wear with the dresses. I will also allow myself to wear a limited number of cardigans and boleros with the dresses, but these must also be made by me. These I won't print on or with, mostly because I'm only interesting in using a single, recognizable sweater shape in the prints I'll be making.
Until now, this blog has focused solely on the wardrobe project; I haven't given up on my other work, printmaking on paper meant for the wall, and indeed this work will feed off of and into the wardrobe project a good deal. At the same time that I print the dresses, I have been working on a new series of large scale prints, using the same inks and the same woodblocks, allowing the dents and bumps left by the clothes in the surface of the wood to appear in subsequent prints on paper. This summer I bought several sheets of 36" by 78" Tokuatsu (a strong, machine-made kozo paper) at the Japanese Paper Place warehouse in Toronto, and these will form the wall component of my work for the thesis exhibition next spring. The prints will evolve slowly, beginning with folding and re-folding the paper sheets and printing layer upon layer of transparent colour from uncut blocks of wood, building up complex and varied colour fields. I have no preconcieved idea of what these prints will end up looking like; what's important to me is that they serve as maps or keys to what's going on in the wardrobe work, and that they convey a sense of that layering of marks and the layering of time, the damage inflicted on the clothes in wearing and in printing, and the damage inflicted in turn on the printing matrix (and the body) by the clothes. The action of folding the paper in many places, combined with the subsequent buildup of ink layers, will make the paper feel like well-worn-in cloth.
Here are two of the new prints in progress, each with three layers of ink:
And a detail:
September 13, 2007
I was trying to compose a concise statement about my current project to send to somebody, and I thought I would include it here as well:
This project started as a way of questioning the value of the hand work put into textiles for the body and the home in comparison with my "real" work in the studio, and the lack of value that my many efforts in textiles and knitwear design had in the context of my candidacy for a Master of Fine Arts degree. This questioning led me to strive to unify my studio work and my work in fashion by not only wearing my prints (as a uniform, or as a costume) every day, but to allow my handwork to be destroyed, if necessary, by my printmaking, and to document that process of destruction. To this end I am printing on fabrics, sewing clothes from those fabrics, then printing on the clothes, wearing each garment only once before altering it again. When the weather turns colder I will make sweaters, inking them up and printing from them and continuing to wear them; my clothes will become the printing matrix as well as the printing surface. The printmaking inks will not hold up to repeated washings, so the normal wear and tear that clothing endures will lead to the destruction of the printing at the same time that the printing is bringing about the destruction of the clothes.
The following is lifted whole out of the statement of purpose that I included in my grad school application packages nearly three years ago; you can see that while my physical work has gone through a lot of changes in the intervening time, a lot of my concerns are the same:
For me, printmaking is intimately connected to the body, not only because of the sheer physicality involved in making prints: it’s about any sort of impression made with or on the body, from a handprint on a window to the patterns a sweater leaves on a face when one falls asleep with ones head resting on an arm. It is from this starting point that I make my work: I want to draw attention to my body and at the same time have my body leave its mark. I seldom print a straightforward image, preferring to build layers of image upon image to create a sense of history in the work; beneath the surface, bits of shapes and figures can be seen, partially hidden, a mystery that must be unfolded slowly.
For as long as I have been making prints I have also been engaged in domestic craft, mainly knitting, sewing and embroidery. For me these processes speak profoundly about the body: textiles are created by human (usually female) hands, to warm and protect the body, and over time the body creates wear on these textiles, so that even in the absence of the body its impression on a piece of clothing or bedding can be seen. I combine domestic textiles with my printmaking in a number of ways: transferring fabrics and knitted pieces onto litho stones to create organic forms which stand in for organs and bones in my figures; tearing apart and sewing back together pieces of prints so that they resemble quilts (but also damaged, mended bodies); printing on bed sheets and on clothing; constructing clothing out of fabrics I have printed on.
When I mentioned construction clothing, I was referring to this piece, part of my final work for my BFA:
At the time I had planned to do more work like this, but never ended up doing so. Later on in grad school I made this dress of printmaking paper sewn onto a muslin base:
and this dress, of Kitakata (a Japanese paper that's thin and crackly):
After that I lost interest in making clothes that weren't wearable; the work felt forced to me.
September 07, 2007
This morning I'm visiting a friend's drawing class to talk to her students about my work; she's introducing a project focussed around obsession in art-making, and wants to show them artists whose work is obsessive or speaks to obsession or obsessive behaviour in some way. In order to get my thoughts together for that, I'll try to write a little bit about that aspect of my work.
I have restless hands; left unattended for too long they twitch and flutter, pick at things, tear corners off paper and roll them up and down, up and down, open and closed. It distracts me and I find myself paying attention to what my hands are fiddling with and tuning out other things around me. And so I knit, giving my hands a mindless, repetitive task to occupy them so that my mind can be occupied elsewhere. I knit on public transit and while waiting for it, I knit at meetings, in restaurants and bars, at artist lectures, in class. All of the little spaces in between being places and doing things I fill up with stitches.
In my printmaking work I tend to shy away from empty spaces on a page in the same way I avoid empty time (by which I guess I mean unoccupied hands time). I print over and over until a page is completely covered, until parts of an image are buried beneath others, mere shadows looming up from under a blanket of ink. I print the same images over and over, keeping the same wood blocks for years, layering time within the layers of ink. During my undergrad studies my main adviser, Daniel Dingler, would periodically take prints away from me, prints I considered unfinished; he always told me that I didn't know when to stop. He probably still has a few of those prints lying in his drawers. Unfinished.
Although never the one factor that governs what I do in my work, frugality has always been a part of how I operate: while an undergraduate printmaking student I couldn't afford a lot of paper, so any prints that were messed up were saved to print overtop of later. I buy secondhand sweaters and unravel them for knitting yarn. I have knitted a garment, worn it for a season and then unraveled it and reknit it into something new (this sweater, for instance, made from a shawl that I wore during my first year of grad school, which began as a thrift store turtleneck pullover). This year I cut up hundreds of (finished and unfinished) prints, most made during my first two years of grad school but some older ones as well, and began binding them into small books to be used as my daily sketchbooks. In these books, over top of an already sometimes dense fog of printed imagery, I draw the same things over and over. Here is where obsessive documemtation first came into the work: I date stamp each page drawn, scan the pages and assemble them all into a web page. Similarly, I date stamp the garments every day that I wear them, and document the wearing with a photograph. I photograph each change that takes place in the clothing, and have also begun documenting these changes in print form as well, by printing onto paper the ghost image left behind on a woodblock after a garment has been printed from it, and offset printing the newly-printed garment onto paper.
This post isn't about why I make my work; that's something I'll write more on later. This is more about process, and understanding how my lifelong patterns of mark-making and stitch-making have expanded into this current project. My clothing becomes like my prints, new imagery and new ink laid down again and again until what was originally there is completely obscured by something else (or so I hope; I want to see what will happen when there is nobody to take the work away from me and tell me I'm going too far). And at the same time, this preoccupation with constantly making new marks out of old marks, on top of old marks, filling all of the spaces with a dense mass of marks, becomes my identity (costume).
For a little more about how clothing is connected to all of this, please see my old artist statement, written at the time that I was applying to graduate schools. Later on I'll plunder some more old writings to help illustrate the connections I've always made between clothing and textiles, hand work, printmaking and the body. Because plundering my old work for new uses is what I do best.
August 29, 2007
august 29, 07
I started this dress last night and finished it this morning. It's much more the sort of thing I'd been envisioning for this project, plain, utilitarian, apronly, with pockets. One piece, so that I can wear prints from head to toe, and long so that I have lots of space to keep printing on it. I think that dresses and larger garments will be important to have when I'm figuring out how to exhibit this work later on, as they will carry more impact in a gallery space. I'm cutting out a few more of these tonight; it occurs to me that I'd better finish one or risk not having anything to wear tomorrow, as all of the skirts are at studio awaiting another printing before I wear them again.
Also for fun today I tried on this dress, the experiment that got me started on this project in the first place. It's a little bit big but not unbearably so, and very stiff (Rives BFK sewn onto muslin; if I do another dress of paper and fabric I'll use something much lighter). It's also not constructed all that well, and already falling apart in places. It's not something I'd ever exhibit, but I might wear it for a lark if I can be bothered to fix it up a bit first.
In a meeting with one of my committee members this morning, we discussed the everyday ritual aspects of this project, the rules and tasks, the documentation. I need to try to make writing here a part of my daily routine, even when I have nothing to say. Stream of consciousness gibberish, vague sentence fragments, even some technical wankery about sewing and knitting is better than pictures without words. So I'm going to try to find words, every day. Being organized, budgeting time and sticking with things are difficult for me, so setting myself some rules and forcing small daily rituals into my life and my work will help.
So. Daily tasks:
-wearing clothes (goes without saying, perhaps)
-time is spent every day either creating new pieces or making alterations to existing pieces. If I print, I should always throw an article of clothing on the press as well. Draw on the clothes I'm wearing. Stitch on the clothes. I'm going to start carrying embroidery floss and a needle with me so that I can stitch on my clothes during moments of down time.
-sketchbook drawings. I slacked a lot on the sketchbook drawing over the summer, taking more than a month to fill a book when in the beginning I was filling three pages a day. I'm resolving to draw at least one page every day.
-write something here.
-date stamp clothing. I have a little ritual setup: a little square of glass, a neatly folded red shop rag, a date stamper. Every day I carry these things from my studio to the print shop (other side of the building) and line them up on an inking slab along with a can of lithographic roll-up ink, a palette knife, a razor scraper and a phone book:
I scrape down a single thin layer of ink, test the stamper a few times on the glass and then stamp it on my clothes. I scrape off the palette knife and glass with the razor (wiping this onto the phone book) then wipe the tools clean with the rag (no solvents) and hang them back up on their hooks. I then wipe the glass clean, again without solvents, wipe the stamper, fold up the rag with the inky part to the inside, tear out the top page of the phone book and throw it away. Carry the glass, rag and stamper back to my studio. I think it's the only thing in my life that I'm meticulous about in this ritualistic way. I need to give this same sort of care to the rest of my project, be more precise about what sort of garments I'm making and why. Spend time crafting perfect darts, even, precise rows of delicate hand-tacked hem stitches, and allow that work to be buried under ink.
-scan sketchbook drawings, upload to flickr, update book pages.
-photograph all garments, so as to be able to track deterioration as well as alteration.