In all truth, I didn’t begin my career with the intention of working as a textile/fiber artist; I began as an artist who worked with earth, plants, and land. I began my artistic work with land art and landscape architecture. My work centered on conversations with ideas of a place (site specific constructions), and work that enfolded materials such as dirt, wood, clay, and, importantly, plants as gardens, crops, or wild habitat. I sought to explore and describe concepts of wilderness and waterways – as well as ideas of toxicity inflected on the earth, mothering and nurturing, as well as growth and caretaking more broadly.
However, in 2011, I began exhibiting work inspired by author Patricia Eakins’s story “The Hungry Girls.” I am drawn to experimentation and play – therefore, I responded to this project with the desire to pursue new directions and make work that was intentionally studio driven, “indoor gallery art.”
These installations profoundly changed the direction and materials of my work. “The Hungry Girls” is a fable of the grotesque: in their insatiable hunger, girls consume everything in sight, including dirt (a strong connection for me), and once pregnant, the daughters they carry eat their mothers from the inside out. In the story the girls fight over a nightgown, and this garment became the focus of my work. I made a series of nine 10’ tall dresses to represent the Hungry Girls, rendered from raw Navajo Churro fleeces nuno-felted into cloth. I manipulated each giant dress with markings of dirt, rips, cuts, and exaggerated hand stitching, which attempts to repair the gashes. I wanted the fabrication of these dresses to bear the description of the women’s wild and insatiable condition. For one dress, I followed an impulse to cut the dress in half vertically and suspended the two halves with just a small slit of space between them. The effect was a startling allusion to childbirth and its violence.
I first heard the story of “The Hungry Girls” when I was very pregnant with my first child. What stayed with me was the fact that, like these famished, pregnant women, I was not in control of what was happening to me or to my body in my pregnancy. In pregnancy, deeper, primal forces are in control as opposed to our conscious will. Pregnancy, that is, the gestation of new life is primal and biological, durational and utterly uncontrollable.
Markings on cloth to describe conditions are an important gesture in my work. In lessons culled from pregnancy and motherhood, I have learned I can let go total control of my artistic process and engage the natural world to participate in a new way: I have come to think of the earth, and specifically the rivers and watersheds of Minnesota, as my collaborators. In this collaboration, like motherhood, I must embrace fully the primal, biological, durational, and uncontrollable aspects of making and, instead, engage instinct.
I create assemblages from silk that has been stained with waterway sediments. For my textile abstractions, I leave silk to soak (for weeks, months, or years) in the waters, mud, and sediments of rivers, lakes, and bogs throughout Minnesota. Sediments carried in the waters of these locations dye the silk and imbue the cloth with many types of startling markings. After I retrieve the silk, I cut it and place the cut shapes into patterns, which I join together with wax to preserve and transform the silk into skin-like, large-scale, cloth assemblages. As an abstractionist, my hope is that the organic shapes, earth colors, stains, and textures of my assemblages evoke a strong sense of place as well as the movement and condition of water and time.
Most recently, the idea of history in water has been a strong theme in my work. In 2018, I worked alongside St. Croix Watershed Research Station scientists. Their sediment collecting gathers hundreds of years of lake-bottom mud, and in this, my assemblages have sought to represent the form of the diatom, a single-celled algae, which the scientists recover from long ago and “resurrect” in order to study the effects of our devastating climate change.
In my work’s interests in time, water, birth, history, dirt, and life-cycles, the markings, colors, textures, and deteriorations made by water on the cloth that I soak in Minnesota watersheds not only intend to make visible the wonder of life hidden within water, but also seek to render visible ways in which our earth has and continues to be damaged by destructive human actions.