Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Two in One Text-iles

"Red Veil."  Stainless steel, linen, silk, bamboo, copper.

Here I go again - just took this piece off the loom and couldn't resist photographing it interacting with natural light.  I like this one.  It reminds me of a Jack-in-the-pulpit.  

I'm increasingly unable to conceive of my woven work in any final final form without an intentional interaction with light.  By using a camera, I can freeze an instance of light/fabric interaction.  This is beginning to feel like the final goal, rather than having any particular 2 or 3D piece that works in any environment.  There is more that I could say about the camera abstracting fabric from its instant recognition as such, allowing it greater freedom to speak as a medium unfettered by all that the word "textile" attributes to it, and about the camera merging two picture planes into one, so that the image becomes neither a picture of a weaving nor its background, but rather one of combined colors and textures, rather like drawing with a weaving.  And there is assuredly something to this merging of two layers that is reminiscent of my coverlet wallhangings - two layers woven as one but speaking separate languages or maybe dialects.  But the most important piece for me right now is that I cannot let the light go.  So I photograph and photograph until I am sated and then begin the process of forming the fabric into three dimensions.

Stainless steel, silk, linen, copper, bamboo
Photo by Kurt Schmidt

Meanwhile, I am becoming more intentional with what I write on the fabric in the burnout chemical.  It is very cathartic as I can write whatever I want to, knowing that the words will be unreadable in the final product, as the chemical tends to bleed into a blurry mass that bears no resemblance to the words I wrote.  I have tended to dismiss this part of my process, just making any mark in order to create visual effect.  But now I am realizing the power of being a woman, writing words onto a text-ile that will be unreadable.  This speaks to feelings of vulnerability, fear of exposure, need for privacy.  I welcome writing in an unreadable script because I get to describe, define my self and my feelings for my self.  This feels like a very feminist act.  It means I am wholly unavailable for outside interpretation.  If you follow my logic of late, that I am trying to weave my skin, then if cloth is the body, and text-ile is text then I am writing my body, recreating it to my own specifications, giving it complete agency over the space it inhabits.

Realizing this raises the work to a sacred place for me.  Nor do these pieces have to be only self-referential.  I realize I can treat this process like casting spells.  I can write wishes for others, for the world even, burn out the words, sculpt the form and give the words a safe place to reside.  If weaving is manifesting space over time, then by adding words into the piece, I am manifesting my deepest desires.  Which, I have learned, is ultimately to make the intangible, tangible.  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What's in a Year?

A year has flown since my last post. 
"To The Moon."  Oil pastel, watercolor pencil, india ink on paper

 It's been a watershed.
"View of the Interior."  Oil pastel, graphite, pen and ink, india ink on paper.
  I came home to myself. 
"Pain."  Oil pastel, watercolor pencil, pen and ink, marker on paper.
I rested and gave myself space and time.

"Alighting."  Oil pastel, marker, watercolor pencil on paper.  
I acknowledged my deep yearning for color and considered never weaving again.

"The Transfusion."  Oil pastel, watercolor pencil, marker, egg yolk on paper.
I read incessantly about women painters - Hilma af Klint, Remedios Varo, Mary Corse, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Suzanne Valadon, Pamela Coleman Smith, Christina Ramberg, Joan Brown, Gwen Abercrombie (the last three courtesy of Donna Seaman's Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists).  Revisited Lenore Tawney, Louise Nevelson and Lia Cook.

I did some drawing.

"The Beginning."  Oil pastel, watercolor pencil, pen and ink on paper

Meanwhile, knowing I was burned out and having anticipated a year without much weaving, I arrived last November in my new little home studio with 10 feet or so of stainless cotton yardage that I had woven before my move in the hope that it would ease my transition.  Sometime in December I started working with it, beginning with this little ribbon piece, a 3D version of the drawing "The Beginning" above I had made six months earlier.

"Ariadne's Thread."  Stainless steel, cotton, wool.
Before long I was back at it, forming these cylindrical "skins".
"Ariadne's Thread."  Detail.

Ariadne's Thread got me out of the labyrinth and back into the cosmos.  Those grey skins were getting droopier and droopier - where was the life?  So I took my last section of yardage and burned off all of the grey cotton and what emerged was light itself.

"Laniakea."  Stainless steel.  

The Summer Solstice saw the opening of my first solo show at Flow.  An honor to show up in the community where I had participated and grown artistically over the last 10 years.

This fall has seen me focused in the studio and I feel like I've regained the energy I had been lacking over the last few years.  I'm no longer trying to pigeonhole myself into weaver/ painter/ fiber artist.  I chafe against those labels.  Gonna stick with artist.  Certainly woman artist.  Yeah. That feels right.

Untitled.  Stainless steel, cotton.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Looking back over the year, I feel like time has slowed to a crawl.  The spring was, well, spring-like, in that my new work got shown in a biennial in Georgia.  Huge for me to get shown outside of North Carolina and with the new work to boot.  The summer bloomed even brighter, when I found out that "Chrysalis" had made the cut for the Surface Design Association's biennial in Sebastopol, CA, judged by none other than Jason Pollen.  

Suddenly I was in a show with Virginia Davis, one of the artists on my IT list.  For days I felt like I was floating on air.  I packed up my piece and sent it out, this time understanding all the ins and outs of mailing work to shows, like the little detail of enclosed pre-paid return labels.  Since I didn't fly across the country for the opening, I decided to look it up on Facebook.  I don't have an account anymore but I was nevertheless able to see almost 50 pictures that someone posted of each wall of the show, so I could get a good handle on how it had been curated - an expertly hung show that represented a good cross-section of fiber arts in North America (even though the show called itself International, it was primarily US-based artists).  And as I virtually walked through the show, I had a very surprising reaction; I felt disappointed.  I had the sinking feeling that this was not what I had wanted after all.  Was it really true that getting shown nationally by a renowned jury was not the gold at the end of my rainbow?  Was it imposter's syndrome, feeling that I somehow didn't deserve to be there?  Had I moved ahead so fast that some unforeseen emotional risk had been violated and I was feeling too vulnerable?  

I don't think it was any of those things.  I think I am getting closer to the answer now but all I knew back at the beginning of August was that I had to go back to the drawing board.  Something was missing.  Something very crucial.  I started to go through my studio, read back issues of Fiber Arts and TextilForum, rifle through piles of things that I had been shoving around for years and sort sort sort.  By the time September came, I knew I was cleaning out in order to move.  I was shedding old skin.  It was time to move my studio back home after nine years in Marshall.  

Two months later finds my dobby loom stashed in the barn and my necessaries whittled down to what will fit into a postage stamp-sized space.  And yet I have a sense of spaciousness and peace that I never had when I had a whole classroom at my disposal.  Part of it is literal - I have the weight of a rent payment off my mind.  But there is something much bigger, which has more to do with letting myself out of the role of weaver/ fiber artist.  I think the California show made me see that I want to be just an artist, fiber or no fiber.  I do not want to be labelled or fit into a box.  Put me into a box and the first thing I will want to do is get out.  I am claustrophobic to the core.  
"If I were put in a box"
watercolor pencil, oil pastel, pen and ink on paper
Right before I moved out of MHS, I wove 10 feet of cotton stainless steel plain weave.  I finally found a stainless steel yarn that would work in the warp without breaking.  I had been looking for this yarn since I had started the skin pieces in 2015, after discovering that the linen version would break after a foot or so of beating and lifting.  Finding this yarn would allow me to make much larger pieces.  I had read somewhere that the human body on average fits into 20 square feet of skin, and I thought that amount would be a good place to start for a larger piece.  So I wove it out, hating every minute of being on the loom, but knowing I would appreciate having the finished product there to start working with once I got settled at home.  It wasn't until a few days ago that I unrolled it and took a few pictures with it draped over me in the fading winter afternoon light:

Untitled, digital photograph, 2017
As per usual of late, I seem to be charting new territory again.  I have to set aside worries that I am fickle, as someone called me once, or that I am changing my mind with the tides.  Well heck, I am a Pisces after all.  And I did start a business with 7 women called Flow.  Ok fine.  There's a theme.  Now it's time to ebb for a while and see what comes to light.  

Topsail Beach, NC
Color film photograph

The German connection

me with my brother, Giles, Svea Gustavs on the far left,
 her cousin Katharina and brother Ture on the right
Sadisdorf, East Germany, 1983
Pinhole Camera Photo by Burghard Junghans

There are many improbabilities in this life, those events that make your head spin in wonder and even awe, until you remember the miraculousness of being here at all, held down feet-first by gravity to this orbiting sphere in a corner of the universe.  One such event in my life was when I traveled from South Carolina to communist East Germany in 1983, (yep - 3 1/2 months before the simulated war game Able Archer between the US and Soviet Union).

War games were far from our minds - my family were there for the celebration of Martin Luther's 500th birthday, my father having been invited as a Protestant Church historian and Luther scholar.  So while he and my mother attended the Luther Congress in Erfurt, my brother and I went with the children and niece and nephew of his East German colleague to a tiny village called Sadisdorf, way up in the Ore Mountains close to the Czechoslovakian border.  Here we stayed for a week with the parents of this colleague's wife, six kids from the age of 9 to 16 or 17, essentially on holiday with the grandparents out in the country.  I had visited East Germany already once and met this family then, in 1979, at their home in Leipzig.  That was of course mind-blowing to my ten-year-old self, getting searched on the train by men with guns and experiencing first hand the sensory standouts of flat coca-cola, no deodorant or dish soap, scratchy toilet paper, cars with no mufflers, sonic booms and every exterior surface black with coal dust.

So I wasn't all newbie and naive this time around, but because I was in the countryside, it was a completely different experience.  True, there was another set of things to get used to: no indoor plumbing - well, there was a faucet in the kitchen that had running water, though I tried once that week to wash my hair and it took several hours as the water flow was so slow.  I got used to pooping in a hole in a bench in a room down the hall because the best toilet is, after all, the closest one.  And there was very little English spoken, since the kids were all schooled in Russian as a second language not English, like in West Germany, and no parents were around to translate.  My German was passable but even so, it took a fair amount of drawing, charading and atlas consultation for me to finally answer that no, there were no hippopotamuses in South Carolina.  Still, in contrast to my visit in 1979, this world felt like a haven, as long as we stayed within the bounds of the forest to pick our raspberries and mushrooms (not veering too close to the Czech border where guards were watching eerily), or stayed in the back yard to play duck duck goose and eat homemade Einback in the afternoon shade.  Three years later I would find myself in another haven of berries and mushrooms, in the Southern Appalachians, and realize in an odd, liminal way, that I had come home.

What does this all have to do with a textile blog?  About a month ago, I received in the mail the books below: the exhibition catalog for this year's Rijswijk Textile Biennial and a gorgeous volume on Jorinde Gustavs sent to me by Svea Gustavs, the girl in the picture above on the left.  Aside from being an artist herself, Svea now has her own publishing company in Amsterdam, designed the Rijswijk catalog for the now well- celebrated biennial, and edited and published the book on Jorinde Gustavs, her mother, who is a renowned German textile and installation artist.

Even though Svea and I stayed in touch over the years, I had no idea that her mother was a textile artist, nor that she was involved in risqué critique of the communist government through her work. Receiving these books takes me back to that time 34 years ago which feels so distant as to be unreal and then swings me right into my own textile-making present, linking the ends into a circle now discernible to me only after the passage of time.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Somehow, slowly but surely, day by sometimes frustrating day, I am developing a visual lexicon.

I have always kept a written journal and have discovered lately that when I go back a few years and reread entries, I can see a mysterious process underway.  I write down my thoughts, ideas, feelings, observations on any given day in an effort to move forward in my thinking, to both record and unburden my mind to make room for new thoughts (I am a consummate introvert - it can be hard to for me to clear my head otherwise).  But  then far from remaining abandoned on the page, these thoughts and ideas seem to somehow sublimate into what I am producing in the studio, sometimes years later, as if they have a mind of their own and decide to reappear in another form unexpectedly and with little help from me.  It feels like a small miracle, like a gift being given back to me - "Here is what you were saying, n'est pas?"  "Oh!  Right!  That's it!"  It certainly seems to be a subconscious process over which I feel I am exerting no control.  I think that this must be what Agnes Martin was referring to in her essay "Uncontrollable Beauty":
"It is quite commonly thought that the intellect is responsible for everything that is made and done.  It is commonly thought that everything that is can be put into words.  But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put into words.  We are so used to making these emotional responses that we are not consciously aware of them until they are represented in artwork." 


So I keep writing, keep showing up in the studio, even though at times I am so resistant to being there I literally scream at the loom and throw things on the floor (sorry Rob) like I am doing this week with my current project.  In waiting for new yarn to start on another skin series, I decided to put a warp on the dobby loom and weave the Missouri Trouble overshot pattern, the only other coverlet pattern that has really ever called to me.  I think I have been fighting against thinking that I shouldn't be wasting my time weaving another coverlet pattern, that I should be moving forward with the skin series, that this is where the "real" work is.   But I lack faith in the mystery, for sure enough, after looking back though old journal entries, I found one from May 2015 that talked about weaving Missouri Trouble.  Trust the process Selinde.

Missouri Trouble coverlet courtesy of Pat Franklin 
Meanwhile, I am thrilled to have two of my newest pieces, "Chrysalis" and "Corpuscle" accepted for the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild's Biennial Exhibit of Textile Arts "Sacred Environment".  They will be on view at the Art Station in Stone Mountain, GA from May 20-June 24.  I decided to get them framed in acrylic boxes along with "Coeur", below.  Very happy with the outcome, as they are enclosed from air and dust but not from light.   I was afraid they might feel arid inside a box, but instead they seem to come alive.   Solving this framing issue was a big accomplishment for me.  Moving forward....
"Coeur" in acrylic shadow box

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Five Minutes of Mayhem

Small works, untitled.
Stainless steel, brass, cotton,silk, linen.  

I've been in the studio a lot more lately and am working at a feverish rate, able to focus and concentrate like never before.  I just finished the red and white piece (10" x 6" x 3 1/2") on the top left of the four in the picture, the others of which I have blogged about recently (see my post Cocoons and Artifacts).  I am also finding myself doing a lot more research online, looking up fiber artists old and new, following leads on artists who use light as their medium such as Lygia Pape and Astrid Krogh, and just generally playing catch-up as I find myself coming up for air both professionally and personally.

One article I recently came across on Artsy.net called "What is Fluxus?" has hit home with me in a couple of ways.  I actually wasn't familiar with this movement so it was interesting to learn about it and put yet another piece of the anti-art-world, avant-garde sentiment of the 20th century into place.   In describing Fluxus's roots, author Karen Kedmey writes about John Cage:
"Many were inspired by elder artist, composer, and musician John Cage. Through his work and his charismatic teaching, he demonstrated that art and life could be fluidly interchangeable. He did this, in part, by welcoming chance into his musical compositions—including ambient noises or the sounds of audience members coughing, stirring in their seats, and sometimes even heckling the performers—and by using such things as everyday household objects as instruments. Cage’s drive to find artistic potential in the everyday resonated with the Fluxus artists."
I was instantly reminded of my own personal encounter with Cage, which I wrote about in a two-volume set called Far From the Centers of Ambition, published in 2013 in honor of Black Mountain College's 75th anniversary, where John Cage taught along with Merce Cunningham in the late 1940s. My essay, "Five Minutes of Mayhem: My Remembrance of John Cage", appears in the first volume called Confluence, edited by friend and poet Lee Ann Brown and Rand Brandes.

 I'll include the text below, but the essential idea is that when, in 1986, Cage came to UNSCA as a visiting artist and I, as a student there at the time, participated in one of his Happenings, I was so caught up in the technical production of music that I was unable to access the joy of spontaneous creation that was his sine qua none. Somewhere over the last 32 years, I traded music for weaving but continued holding on to the reins of technique over spontaneity. Until now. I am finally understanding Cage's notion of how to "embark on an artwork without a conception of its end". I am working more intuitively, able to strike a balance between planning out the technical specs of a project and letting it evolve into what it wants or needs to become, and to trust in that process.  I think that as a result my work is now starting to breathe more than it ever has, and in so doing, give back to me in spades forms of new inspiration.  In trying to construct membranes real and imagined that we use to negotiate our inner and outer worlds, in trying weave our "skins", I am finally discovering that the only way to truly know them is to trust my sense of touch.  It's poetic, really.  As sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz wrote:
"After many years soft things of complicated tissue have become my material.  I feel a kinship with the world which I do not want to know but through touching, feeling and relating to the part of myself which I carry deep inside me...There is no tool between me and the material I use.  I choose it with my hands.  I shape it with my hands.  My hands transmit my energy to it.  By translating an idea into a shape, they will always pass on something escaping conceptualization.  They will reveal the unconscious."  

Here is the text for my John Cage essay:

1986.  I was 16 and how sweet it was.  I was living out my fantasy to be a cast member of the hit TV show "Fame" as a classical flute student at the North Carolina School of the Arts.  "Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco was at number 15 on the pop chart, inspired by a movie we at NCSA were all very familiar with, as it featured the highly acclaimed work of recent grad Tom Hulce as Mozart.  My lab bench partner in biology was Eddie Stierle, who would go on to be prima danseur for the Joffrey Ballet, succumbing to AIDS not five years later.  Neither of us knew what highs and lows lay right before us though, and as we carved and snipped away at frog parts, life seemed pretty normal.  Because somehow, right there in the middle of North Carolina tobacco country, a little oasis of some of the country's finest dancers, visual artists, actors, and musicians had come together to form an arts school, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do.

Maybe it seemed normal because, miraculously, it had been done before.  In Black Mountain, a few hours west of of Winston-Salem, Black Mountain College had opened its doors 53 years earlier in 1933.  While the two schools grew out of different educational approaches (collaborative and progressive vs. a strict conservatory model), they shared the mission to teach the arts as a fundamental and serious educational and professional pursuit.  They also, for a few brief hours in November of 1986, shared the hallowed footsteps of John Cage.

We had been prepared, like one of his pianos, and we were all taut strings full of surprises, an unpredictable crew of maybe 50-60 dancers, musicians and actors, ready to participate in our first ever Happening.  We gathered on the grass of the Student Commons, awaiting his arrival.  I'm not sure he had even been out of the car two minutes before he was raising his hand and cueing us to begin, right on schedule with the day's agenda.  The Happening couldn't have lasted more than five minutes.  I played sections of the Chaminade Flute Concertino, and tried to riff a little on the folks around me.  Nevertheless, I must confess that I don't remember any magical moments of spontaneous creation "happening" for me that day.  Nothing in my education up to that point had taught me how to be spontaneous.  I was only 16 but I had already forgotten how to "play."  From morning 'til night I locked myself in the practice room and forced my fingers into predetermined places.  We were conservatory kids, and wrong notes were not okay.

Thinking back on that day now leaves me with a little pang of sadness.  How can it be that I didn't quite know what to do with five minutes of mayhem?  John Cage was in his element though.  The yearbook pages don't lie.  I remember him exactly that way, as downright jolly and pleased as punch.  He didn't seem to mind being shuffled around from one planned agenda event to another.  He just smiled his infectious, "I have the Secret to the Universe," his "I know a joke and ya'll are all in on it" smile, as if to say, "Isn't it cool that we can all just hang out and do this together?"  Oh yes.  Indeed it was.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How the time does fly...

It's been months since I posted.  Crazy, chaotic months in our country.  I have tried to stay focused and remember the Nietzsche quote on my chalkboard: "We have art in order not to perish of truth."

Here is a short list of what I have been up to:

1) I moved from cocoons to chrysalises:
Silk, Linen, Cotton, Brass, Stainless Steel. 10"x5"x3 1/2"

2) I dressed up the studio a bit to host open houses in October and November where I welcomed so many interesting people into my space:

3) Meanwhile I put a warp on the dobby loom and wove a pattern modified from a waffle weave:
I used a silk stainless weft with a cotton weft.  I was happy with it on the loom but when I took it off, it didn't have enough body to work with sculpturally.  I also tried chemical burnoff of the cotton content in hopes that the stainless in the weft would hold it all together resulting in some nice transparent areas but everything just dissolved and I got holes.  So you know what they say about lemons....I started cutting it apart along the rows and making tubes that I handstitched together and as I finished I realized I needed something threaded through the tubes and voila, I ended up with this:

Kind of a weaving within a weaving....

4) I sold a few Artifacts and had a commission for two more:
Stainless steel, silk, linen, 11"x11"
and I started displaying a few of them at Flow in "sleeve" format:

5) I played around with taking pictures through the sleeve:

6) I doodled a bit:
Drawing 12/2016, watercolor pencil, oil pastel, marker, pen and ink, 8"x 10"

7)  I deviated from my normally intact handweaver's moral compass and ordered a fleece blanket with a photograph of one of my woven wall hangings printed onto it:

I was both delighted and mortified that it looked so fantastic.  Artistic licensing meets a grave Slow Craft betrayal.  I gave it as a Christmas present.