"The grey film of dust covering things has become their best part."
—Walter Benjamin Dream Kitsch
I am currently expanding on a series of drawn and sculptural pieces that explore value, memory and landscape. I believe that drawing is an extension of touch, the hand. Whatever the medium for drawing—pen, thread and cloth, or glitter—I think about the haptic gestures made and recorded on, in, through a surface. My recent body of work inverts notions of soft and hard, fixed and malleable, structure and collapse.
My current work features fragments of imaginary landscapes made from recycled cloth and clothing that support the ruins of a miniature civilization's infrastructure. The architectural fragments on the surface of the soft terrain may hint at a lost population's industry, power, wealth and failure. The failed structures I build are often coated in a layer of glitter that can serve as dust, or as a reminder of past wealth. Drawings made of glitter capture the geographic evolution of this fictional land.
The sculptural landscapes are reminiscent of a mountain wall that moves from a wall visible from the gallery entrance around the corner and into the main gallery space. The cliff-like landscapes are made from stitched layers of cloth that are beneath a sheer cloth surface, creating the visual appearance of strata.
I grew up in the heart of Pennsylvania coal mining country where everything of value is hidden beneath the earth, covered in black dust. Returning to Benjamin's quote, I wonder what it would mean if dust were glitter—if all the residue of history was reduced to sparkling, iridescent flakes.
Glitter is little more than dust. It was created around the time of the Second World War from scraps in a machinist's shop. The machinist, Henry Ruschman, was determined to find/create something of value out of discarded material. This is an impulse that is echoed by my current studio practice.
Glitter, as a fine art material, is often seen as a kitschy element—a material better relegated to grade school art classrooms, gaudy gifts, and holiday decorations. Sometimes the value of a material lies beneath the surface and must be unearthed, like mining for minerals or precious metals. I want to imbue glitter with value, to transform it into something spectacular that is not so easily dismissed.
It is important to me that the materials for the sculptures I make are primarily found, donated, and repurposed from other sources. To give the cloth and clothing I collect from other people—often complete strangers—a second life is part of my ongoing investigation of where value resides in the material world.
The landscape of my childhood has also experienced a repurposing in recent years and is a large influence in this current body of work. The "Endless Mountains" populated by turn of the 20th century coal mines and parcels of farm land where people struggled to get by year to year have recently undergone a dramatic shift in their value. With the hydraulic fracking techniques used to release natural gas from Marcellus shale, previously poor communities are experiencing a boom of wealth as the gas companies move in, buy mineral rights to land, and fill the country roads with trucks and men from across the country. This economic boon is complicated by social and ecological factors that many people failed to anticipate, or were willing to live with if it meant that money could be made in a difficult economy.
Memory plays a role in this body of work, although not nostalgia. I am interested in the way memory shifts and is malleable, yet stands as a landmark of sorts. Collective, as opposed to individual memories interest me?the way it was; the way we were. The work considers multiple ways of viewing and thinking about personal geographies, past and present.
Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.