Conni Maculata: american JuJu for The Tapestry of Truth, 2015
International artist Teresa Margolles commissioned myself, Michelle Bishop, Laura Gadson, Jerry Gant to produce a work for her upcoming show at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, N.Y. The focus of Teresa's work deals with the impact of violence on communities, and we were invited to express our response to the death of Eric Garner by the police. A cloth containing fragments and energies taken from the ground where he lay through a process developed by Ms. Margolles, was presented to us to work with. Under Michelle's direction, we responded with the (de)construction of the U.S. flag, a symbol of freedom that is deteriorating for many of us. We each concentrated on a particular aspect of this.
My focus was on female victims of police violence. Although black males are the majority of those beaten and killed by police, the media, through a process of selective attention, creates a unnecessary gender-bias renderig black and Latina women invisible (but inures the perp's immunity). All of these victims were given some press at the time, but I now had to search to even find a mention. How do their families heal? Get justice?
Conni Maculata is the patron saint I created for the victims, her name a play on conium maculatum, the Latin name for the hemlock plant. Hemlock has been the instrument for women's justice for centuries. Ironically, in very small doses, it is used for the rapid healing of serious wounds.
Embroidery, applique, stamping, hand spinning, dyeing and garment construction was used to memorialize the unarmed women and girls killed by police. I gave them the "Hollywood Star" treatment stitching, because in our entertainment society, celebrity is how people remain in our minds.
The exhibition of all of the textiles at the Nueberger Museum. Our flag is the first.
The initial reference.
My ideas are worked on paper, as a guide for design and construction. Conni's locks were hand spun from a blend of Corridale fleece and Alpaca hair. Toy SWAT team action figures replaced the paper placements.
This is the hand-spun hair sample.
Gathering supplies to test, after deciding to use embroidery and mixed-media fiber and construction for my expression.
The stitch plan, traced onto the silk organza ground fabric. The paper has the instructions for the choice of materials, their placement and the order of assembly.
The medieval reproduction embroidery frame, was made by Custom Design Studio in The Bronx. The fabric was my mother's. This simple frame allows you to work on very large pieces.
This was my stitch pad, where I worked out the embroidery techniques I would use to illustrate my idea.
Aiyana was the youngest victim, at age 7.
The dress fabric in the dyepot. Lanaset dyes were used.
The dyed dress fabric to be traced, before painting and construction.
Warrior angels placed to be appliquéd, to shoot the violators.
The big push came the night before we met to assemble the flag. Conni's dress is painted to resemble the stem of the Hemlock plant. The blossoms were sewn on, her skin was appliquéd and padded. Later, her hair and halo were constructed and attached. Last, a mylar backed hairbrush held in her hand, was attached.
Here is the flag in the assembly stage. The second ground fabric to back Conni, is a resist painting on demin by Jerry Gant.
We used our hand prints for one of the stripes.
Jerry Gant's contribution to one of the stripes; sculpted and painted faces of aluminum and simulated bullet holes; burned fabric outlined with markers.
Laura Gadson fashioned these icons in appliqué and textile paint.
Conni Maculata, complete and in place on the flag, before being stitched down.
Stitched down and ready for backing and final details.
Final adjustments at the Nueberger's workroom. Laura Gadson added the border and juju to Conni.
Michelle Bishop putting the signatures and protective juju to our flag.
Falling Up, And Pointing Is Not The Moon, 2015
This was a commission for the artist Tyrone Mitchell's show at The Merton Simpson Gallery in April. He presented me with images of the concept to reference. He loved my samples and the work was done, both at my studio in The Bronx and in his studio in Hudson. In both pieces elements of modernist forms, hieroglyphics, and abstract graffiti were executed by the use of air-brush and painted application.
Additionally constructed in a fabric provided by the artist, was a base for Pointing, referencing "scarification" and it's relationship to identity across the waters to the new world. The base was later eliminated. For Falling Up, the multi-colored stand was simplified. Sometimes less is more.
The head of Falling UP, prior to gilding.
Testing paints and techniques, using the image for reference.
A scale model of the fabric base using the artist's fabric. The agate imitates the placement of a lens.
The second sculpture, Falling Up.
The head of Falling Up. The basket will get a dry paint coating of metallic copper.
The fun part! Putting down the first layer with airbrush, next comes the patterning.
On the second layer, I'm sponging over taped areas.
"Pointing" finished, with the scale base and lenses in the background.
"Looking Up", stenciled/airbrushed. This design was later changed.
The basket, gilded in copper, using the dry paint method.
"Falling UP". Tyrone was considering a base with luggage handles. The multi-colored stenciling was later simplified.
NONA 1 & 2, 2014
This series of the Crystalline Floorpieces were inspired by petal forms. Two were produced to form a mirror of power, an aid in the transformation of the space for the show Occult Geometry, presented at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagan.
The initial specs and test swatch.
The start of machine knitting a large work.
Machine knitting distorts fabric, so the pieces are pinned to the correct shape before blocking with steam.
Steam blocking, is physically demanding but the most important process. It permanently sets the shape of the piece.
Sewing oceans of fabric.
The finished Nona's, ready to ship
A second view of NONA 1 & 2 in the gallery.
Coltrain's Horse, 2014
Internationally acclaimed artist Tyrone Mitchell commissioned me to produce the textile component to his mixed media sculpture, Coltrane's Horse, using his Kuba cloth from a trip to West Africa.
I draped the sections of the sculpture to be covered with muslin to develop pattern templates. The fabric was then cut, fitted and sewn into sleeves to be permanently attached to the body of the piece.
This work was featured in the 2014 show ICONOMANIA, at the Merton Simpson Gallery, New York City,where Tyrone Mitchell is represented.
Coltrane's Horse, on display in the group show ICONOMANIA,March, 2014.
The finished piece.
The muslin pattern.
First Kuba cloth sleeve.
Second Kuba cloth sleeve.
The sleeves are being fitted and re-pinned for a snug fit.
Violamine R Crystalline Series, 2012 - 2013
This was the first of the octagonal series of Jennifer's Crystalline Floorpieces. I particularly liked her drawings of transitive geometry and gradation rhythm, and decided to formulate custom colors to obtain a richness and power not available using commercial yarns.
The application of the dyes by airbrush, allowing for precise placement of the colors coupled with the invisible seaming of dyed and white areas, effected the rugs to transfigure their knitted composition to a sculptural fluidity suitable as a stage for performance.
The culmination of this project was the production of the remaining rugs for inclusion in "Practical Magic" Jennifer's solo show at Project Arts Centre Dublin, IE; curated by Tessa Giblin.
These are the final lab dips, after much testing, for each section of the octagons.
The start of the dye process. Both sides of the piece were sprayed.
Airbrushing is a very different approach to the traditional way of dyeing/painting on knits.
The sections, carefully labeled to avoid confusion.
The dyed and white sections are connected using an invisible seam for a continuous transition.
A look at one of the angles, with the attachment of the individual sections.
The floor-piece is machine sewn first, then its apex is sewn by hand for a flat and precise point.
The beauty of correct measurement and a well constructed floor-piece.
A most interesting commission. I was asked to create a wedding gift for a couple who were well established in their careers and lives; they certainly didn't need a vacuum cleaner. A wedding book seemed like a good idea, but I disliked the frill, over-the-top tomes that primarily emphasized the happiness of the bride.
I have long been attracted to Shunga, Japanese erotica often constructed in the form of a pillow book and presented to new brides as an instruction manual. I found this to be a practical (and humorous) idea, and stoked by a copy of 400 sex positions for $1.00 I bought from a street vendor, this formed the reference for the wedding book –an adaptation of the classic tradition.
It is accordion shaped, opening to reveal seven pillows, one for each day of the week. One side illustrates a sex position; the reverse side contains a quote from a noted source in regards to an aspect of marriage relating to the image. The seventh day is allotted for a (well needed) rest.
I used materials perceived as masculine and feminine in the book's creation, to honor the groom as well as the bride. An intermix of techniques was applied, including hand and machine sewing hand dyeing, appliqué, painting, embroidery, photo transfer, quilting and the creation of an email transformed into fabric paper. The inside contains a dedication to the authors of the quotes and a place for the cards of well-wishers.
The last day of the pillow book.
It was humorously difficult to select positions for the pillows. I considered the lifestyle, age and agility of the couple, combining fun with practicality. The selections were to be projected onto the background fabric to trace for the embroidery.
The pillow template. The machine knit ground fabric would be adhered to this for the image projection and tracing.
I crocheted a wool braid then appliqued it over the line drawings to give them dimension. The ground fabric is a silk/wool blend.
This is the start of the pillow for Monday. The couple has a home office.
The days are taking shape.
The use of leather for and other materials for appliqué brought the figures to life.
The start of the reverse side of the pillows.
I thought this advisory quote from Mary MCarthy, a famous feminist author and critic, would be perfect to use as a (pretend) email for the home office pillow.
The email is sandwiched between layers of silk organza, and watercolored to look aged. It is then painted with diluted fabric adhesive.
Jim Owen is a motivational speaker and his quote was perfect for Wednesday!
completed pillows ready to be hinged.
The reverse sides of the completed pillows framed with chenille and stuffed with batting. The background fabric is a 50/50 wool and silk yarn, machine knitted.
The hinges are covered with a vintage rayon print from the 60's, in my collection.
The book cover was cut from this remnant of silk velvet, given to me by my mother over 40 years ago. "Don't mess it up" she said at the time.
The pillow book cover. Red silk velvet (the bride) hugged by a wool plaid (the husband). The twin mirrors on the spine are the reflections of love. The names of the couple and the date of their union will be embroidered in gold metallic thread across the arms of the ties.
Many thanks to Laura Gadson of The Gadson Gallery for the cover embroidery!
Handmade paper from Indonesia lines the interior.
The reverse side of Sunday's pillow.
Gridding Sentences 2011
Presenc-ing sculpture, was the focus for these 9' x 12' (274cm x 365cm) crystalline floor pieces. Part of the Crystalline Floor Piece Series with performance, the purpose of these rugs was an abstraction of primitive textile, creating an optical illusion of movement to elevate their sculptural quality, actuating them to support a complex performance.
Gridding Sentences '11 - Jack Gallagher
Fantastic!! This is a short video of the performance that the floor sculptures I constructed supported.
Test swatches calculate everything, from the correct size of the stripes, to insure the correct size of the finished rugs.
Intarsia, is the laying-in of individual colors to be knitted. Patterns comprising many colors in a single row can be produced using this technique.
To knit the shaped parts for such a large rug, each section was worked moving across the needle bed. When the one side of the bed was reached (as shown in the photo), the work was carefully removed and placed back onto the needles at the otherside of the bed, to continue. This action was performed 6 times per section, with 2 sections for each rug.
Not a bad look for someone with the flu. Because of a month long delay in the delivery of the yarn, I had to develop and fabricate both floor-pieces working 10 hour days for 34 days straight in order to make the deadline.
Nicole Byrd, my assistant on the project and myself, hand sewing the diagonal sections to the rest of the rug. I wanted a seam that would blend into the rug and have no bulky ridge for the dancers discomfort.
Almost there! Taking a well deserved break to show off, before getting ready to ship.
The first finished floorpiece before shipping.
Second floorpiece before shipping.
Star Crossed, 2010
This is my largest and most important comission/collaboration with Jennifer Tee to date. I collaborated with her on the textile component of a large scale installation, incorporating sculpture, and performance for the Shanghai 2010 Expo. The work, named Star crossed (referencing the famous jazz piece by Duke Ellington) was part of Nether Land, the Dutch Cultural Center’s official entry representing the Netherlands. Held from June 20th until July 21st, the exhibition was seen by thousands of Chinese and foreign visitors.
Each hexagon spans nearly nine feet and collectively is comprised of over 115,000 rows of knitting.
The crystalline floor pieces at the Dutch Cultural Pavilion; Shanghai 2010 Expo. Ms. Tee's ceramic sculptures gives presence to them. The performance of Star Crossed can be viewed HERE. The movie is 22 minutes.
Yarns for constructing a small scale sample hexagon for review.
A sample angle.
Several swatches were knitted before we decided on the final colors to be used. We decided to go with the first one for the background.
Notating knitting instructions for the sample.
My assistant on the project Nicole Byrd, carefully constructing the sample.
The approved sample for background fabric color and construction techniques to be applied for the full size floor sculpture.
Project books kept all of the massive amount of work in order. There was one for each of the 5 hexa's containing yarn color charts, knitting instructions, and other pertinent information.
The receiving of these full scale templates made me fully realize the scale of the entire constellation!
The beginning of the largest amount of machine knitting in my career! Due to the extremely late delivery of the hand dyed yarns––more than 96 skeins––I had to knit and construct each sculpture in one week to make the deadline for overseas shipment.
Hand finishing the multitude of yarn ends.
Hand stitching the apex to lie perfectly flat.
Steam blocking to shape the largest angle,108" tall. This is the most physically demanding part––on hands and knees with a steam iron for hours at a time.
Hexagon #3 before final pressing, with Nicole sitting to show scale.
The start of the finished hexagons, ready to be rolled and shipped. Custom tubes were made for transport because the combined floor sculptures rolled into one had a 14" diameter.