When I was five, at Mater Amoris Montessori Nursery School, I was very frustrated by being there because I wasn’t allowed to make anything with freedom. There were always limitations and rules. There WAS one classroom that had an easy sewing kit in it. I remember going into that classroom to do sewing, but I got caught and asked what I was doing. I remember trying to explain that I was “snowing”. Sadly, they told me that I needed to stay in my own classroom.
In Mrs. Ivorian’s kindergarten class at Potomac school, we had an art corner filled with an array of exciting materials: old bits of rug and fabric, egg cartons, paper towel rolls, string, glue, etc. etc… Every choice time I would raise my hand to go into that place where I was in my element with all the possibilities.
As I got older, I took every art class that I could: photography, weaving, painting, sculpture, drawing, pattern design, printmaking, design fundamentals. I loved making art. Every once in awhile, I felt truly excited about something that I made, but I didn’t feel that I had found my métier. I always felt constrained by the limitations of each craft. The rectangles were all so rigid. The effects of each material could only go so far.
My senior year at Sarah Lawrence, I focused on monoprint etchings and felt pretty pleased with my results. I showed my prints to Bruce Hooten, the most famous man I knew in the art world. I expected him to be bowled over and send me on the road to success. He wasn’t, and didn’t, but he gave me some of the best art advice I ever received. He said, “These are nice, but a little boring. You should make frames for them.” So that summer, at Haystack school of Crafts, after I made some more boring prints, I began to collage frames for the outsides. Using objects and papers which were sentimental or aesthetic to me, I glued and sewed them together. I quickly decided that I liked the frames much more than the art inside and I started to sew the “frames” together. The outside became the inside. The backs and the holes were as interesting to me as the fronts and the materials. So began my “paper constructions” as my friend Lenore coined them at the time. I finally felt like I could express myself.
Now when I make art, I am not under the constraints of a rectangular piece of paper or a craft or technique. I cannot do anything wrong, except by my own standard. Because I love paper, it is usually the base. Anything can be attached to paper, or paper can be attached to anything. The fronts and backs are equally significant in their conversation with each other. Even if you don’t see one side, the fronts relates to the back with stitches, bleeding ink, holes, burns or whatever. Often I have hated one side of something, turned it over, and used the other side. In my art, there are holes and protrusions. Paper can lie flat or bulge, Nothing needs to be a perfect geometric shape. There are literal and abstract moments. To me, there are endless possibilities.
My first collage series was about rejuvenating, preserving, and displaying sentimental papers which I had collected throughout my life. Soon, I became interested in exploring the physical possibilities papers. I saw a Robert Ryman exhibition where every work was white, but every work was a completely different colour? How could this be? I started to look at the nuances in what we call sameness. I thought, “What if you take away some white paper and leave air pockets? Would it look different from one part to the other?” From there, I just wanted to see what everything I did would do. Every new technique or material brought it’s own characteristics. I played and still play with burning, bleach, photographs, gold leaf, stamps, needle and thread sewing, hobby grass, paper making, hole punches, fabrics, sewing machine, wax, digital images, felting, beading, spirographs, compasses, children’s art, and more. I hope that I will continue to find new materials and techniques to keep me fresh. Meanings unfold out of these explorations.
I think it is very important to address and reflect upon what my “style” of artwork might signify. I did not choose this “style” because of how it might be gender-analyzed . It is obvious that I do not make work like any man that I know. This is not a conscious feminist act, but it is my reality. IF it is linked to being a woman, (which it could likely be, though I am not sure how we could scientifically prove it), I celebrate it. My art is much more interesting to make than all the other constraining materials, techniques and crafts that people are expected to embrace when they study art for the first time. I would like to know what the problem is to say that I make “female art” ? Sadly, calling something “female art” can be degrading depending on how it is said. Also, talking like that, gets complicated because the art becomes ONLY “female art”. It is not taken seriously for anything, BUT being female. Also, let’s call a spade a spade, people are not enlightened. Even women voted against Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump. People do not like women.
I am not sure that I always like men. Let’s use the same kind of analysis and identify “male art”. It is massive, imposing and sometimes intimidating. There are sometimes naked women for the sake of naked women. Feelings are often removed. There is not a lot of detail. Maybe this also should be examined. Sometimes I do find “male art” awesome and moving. It can be great. But I also feel annoyed by the characteristics of the above because I feel like someone is showing their power, indifference, and their voyeurism. Sometimes I feel like the artist is just trying to make me feel small or make me feel like his object. I don’t want to feel some random man’s testosterone pulsating.
Although I live in a world full of cities and technology that are to my benefit, I find it destructive and scary. Because of it, we lose our appreciation for the life around us. We are distracted away from our friends and families and on a greater scale, the times of day, the seasons, our planet, and the universe. We live detached from the earth that nourishes us and are unaware of the cycle of life. Don’t get me wrong, with shame in my heart, I must admit that I am a bleeding heart liberal with a limousine life. I don’t harken back to living in an ancient age. I love my hot epsom salt bath and my warm studio too much. I appreciate traveling all over the world and only needing my passport and credit card. Most of the people that I know and love are still alive which wouldn’t be so if I were actually living a natural life. I am grateful and do give thanks. However, everything has a right to this earth and to live as it was created: the air, the trees, the prairies, the forests, the dirt, the animals, the water, the children, the women, etc. etc. etc. etc… In part, my artwork is an homage to the overlooked and forgotten. I cherish the tiny, the unappreciated, the damned. I believe in the present. I extoll materials. I hope that my artwork should be an eloquent message to encourage the fundamentals of life.
THESIS FOR COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY 1996-1998
Chairman: Archie Rand
Anthropology: Alexander Alland Jr.
In music, a profound relationship between instrument and musician brings forth individual and harmonious sounds. It is not one or the other, but both that contribute equally. It is the same with art. My intimate and balanced connection with the materials I use is the tool by which I express my own voice.
From incarnation to past its completion, each artwork evolves through undetermined cycles. Materials constantly redefine themselves. Different papers burn differently, some bleed, some burn right through and some barely singe. Every artwork demands a different visual language and process. Their meanings differ according to context. Burning is usually destructive and hateful. Painting white means it’s hidden or all the same, (but of course not really). Sewing with twine is an attempt at precious protection (it is different with wire). Turning the back to the front means its life is out of my control and thank God there’s an out. Staples are frazzled. No eyes means the unimportance of being human. Photographs reinforce my world and writing remembers and clarifies my mind. It is these continuous dynamics which guide the work. I trust materials and their constructions like I trust tides or the horizon. Faith makes magic. Natural and unforeseeable sets of stages form each artwork which in turn will inform the outcome of my project.
I see my artistic place through my memory. It is my life experiences and knowledge that I have accumulated which have influenced me and made me who I am today. Jackson Pollock made the first painting I ever loved because I saw that someone else felt the way that I did. Emilio Pucci gave me the urge to create. Matisse gave me a visual goal. Picasso usurped everyone’s style including the newspaper’s. Joseph Cornell made the unprecious precious and melancholy. Robert Ryman taught me that what seems to be a little is so much. Malevitch taught me strength of mind. Berlin taught me funky. Surrealism took the dark side of humanity and made it marvelous. Max Ernst explored his inner-mind with random materials. Duchamp told us the flat truth and kept a sense of humor. Man Ray made the shadows dance. Nadja played her soul like a game. Francesca Woodman helped me to be a young woman artist in my twenties. Louise Bourgeois gave me acceptance of my womanhood, of my memories, of my pain. Kiki Smith gave me female pride. Eva Hesse exploded contradiction by mixing organic and inorganic and making hairy nipples sensual. Cycladic Figures gave me an earth goddess. Ana Mendieta defined nature. Felix Gonzalez Torres defined transience. Joe Brainard and Florine Stettheimer believed in being “Me”. Robert Smithson rearranged my universe and John Baldessari rearranged my self. Writing tablets from Uruk tell me secrets I’ll never know. Asian art tells me that perspective is from above and below, not just in and out. Cases of arranged beads from pharaoh’s tombs tell me its ok to organize my three thousand stamps according to color. Christian Icons show that worship is relative…
To contexturalize myself concretely in history I turn to my blood. On my mother’s side, I have detailed information on my great-great grandmother, my great grandmother, my grandmother, and of course my mother. They were, and are, all creative and independent women, leaders of the household and in the community. I share a part of all of their names. On my father’s side, I have no sense of history, only countries of origin. My father died when I was nine, not formed. I am both absent and present. I am lost and floating as much as I am solidly positioned next in a line of women. This dichotomy emerges in my artwork in more ways than I am aware. I literally create a middle space: both the fronts and the backs are part of the work, but they are not sculpture. Amorphous constructions with holes and protrusions create negative space and shadow that are positive space. A scrap is precious. I canonize insignificant bits of memory and mix them with materials that seduce me. I fight loss through loving reconstruction of ephemeral materials. I destroy and repair to try to possess. Through the process of making however, the materials become banal and my precious content is irrelevant to the viewer. No matter, this desperate salvaging labor proves my existence to myself. I hold onto a world that is gone. I try to preserve time. My work demonstrates futile activity in life and exposes the frailty of being human.
In my artwork, I am looking for something that I cannot explain with words. I search: to find peace, to make precise my articulation, to accumulate knowledge, mental, and visual stimulation, and to continue to search. In the end, tangible self-satisfaction arrives in moments of elation and constant unfulfilled desire.