Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fiber Art as Fine Art

Amount woven yesterday: 7.5"
Amount woven to date: 1 yard+29.5"

I accidentally found myself at a small fiber show last night. The show consisted of works by a Susan Lenz of Columbia SC. There were two kinds of work in the gallery. One kind consisted of arranging yarns, ribbons, threads across a dissolvable web and then free motion embroidering with her sewing machine over them. The result was something that looked remarkably like weaving. I loved the colors and textures. The pieces were mounted on white mat board. The mat board, in other words, did not cover the edges. The edges, in all their messiness were there for all to see. The messiness was not great, however. It was just enough to reveal the maker's hand. And the whole thing was framed. The fiber pieces themselves, without mat board or frame appeared to be about 12 inches wide by 30 inches tall.

The other kind of piece consisted of very small fabric squares. They appeared to be about one inch square. They were embellished with paints and free motion embroidery. They were then linked to one another with free motion embroidery. I assume the pieces were laid on dissolvable web and then the machine stitching was done. And I call it linking because there was space between each of the individual pieces. As with the previous type, the complete piece was placed on a white mat board and then framed. The size of these works as also about 12 inches wide by 30 inches tall.

Strange, I have been vaguely thinking about small weavings. Weaving with weavettes. Pin weaving. Perhaps I am reacting to weaving all this yardage?

I walked back to my car with renewed energy.

When I Googled Susan's name, I learned, much to my sorrow, that her current interest seems to be primarily altered books, though she is starting to play with quilting. Why this shift? I reflected on what I had seen. Yes, I really liked the stuff. And yes, her stuff made me think about what I was doing. But her stuff was all the same. She was really only repeating the same two ideas over and over again. There was no development. She must have been bored. I certainly would have been. She must have seen no possibilities for exploring in new ways what she was already doing. So she moved on to something different.

To learn more about Susan Lenz, check out her blog.

1 comment: said...

I just read your review of my work at Francis Marion University. Part of me is absolutely thrilled to know that someone looked at my work and cared enough to actually blog about it. Part of me is a bit stunned, of course.

First, seventeen pieces of work...even using your measurements...isn't exactly what I'd call a "small" exhibition. I approached this opportunity with complete seriousness. It is a really important exhibit, as far as I'm concerned. Professionalism, unpunctuality, proper framing, accurate exhibition lists, documentation, press releases and formal contracts were all important aspects of such an undertaking.

Perhaps, in weaving, solo exhibitions are quite commonplace, include vastly more square inches (or linear inches) of material, showcase more pieces, and display more variety. I really don't know. For me, I consider the exhibition at Francis Marion University a major event in my year. I'm thrilled beyond words to have even been considered for such exposure and am very, very proud to have the work on display in such a fabulous facility.

Truly, I hope I am so honored in the future; and, if so, I will approach each and every such opportunity as a really BIG deal. Universities tend to prefer exhibits that are narrower in scope but allow students to see labor intensive work based on a few, simple themes....basically, the willingness of an artist to experiment within the confines of a limited set of variables...hence, two related bodies of work that show very subtle, intentional alterations to the process of creation.

Second, the mat board is Crescent 7553 Edelweiss (or 87553...which is the over-sized boards in the same linen surface). It is an acid-free natural linen, and the same boards were used for both bodies of work. This mat board provided a unified ground on which to display both bodies of work while simultaneously providing a subtle, soft sense of textile. "Messy" edges relate to the theme of the earth's strata. (I actually wrote a detailed tutorial on "How to Create an 'In Box' several months ago on my blog...complete with specific framing instructions. I am a certified custom picture framer.)

The second body of work was not created on "dissolvable web" but on 100% acrylic craft felt. They were also not painted. Instead, previously painted, heat-activated adhesive was ironed onto the surface. I also used heat-activated metallic foiling and overlays of chiffon scarves. All this was then soldered using a fine-tipped soldering iron before being melted used a heat gun.

You were quite correct, however, in that both bodies of work were created on grounds that I intentionally would by dissolving in water and the other by melting with heat. Using this approach, boredom is hardly a problem. When the final step is to subject the work to deconstruction processes, there is always a slight anxiety as to the results...a mystery, a sense of eager anticipation, a question, a hope, an idea for the next work...hardly a repetitive process and never boring.

Where's the development? Easy! The series has developed significantly. One series has over forty pieces. It started quite small and grew to the current size. The exploration has been in the choice of fabrics for the approximate one-inch squares, the distance between their placement, the motifs used for free-motion embroidery, the color choices, the amount of fabric melted while inflicting the soldering iron, the number of "bridges" that link the pieces...all sorts of questions, ideas, and inspirations....I'd call this development. Perhaps these are simply not questions that perplex and drive weavers?

The other body of work is "younger". In the pieces on display where several fresh thoughts that have and will continue to inspire the series over time. In one, I used a solid chiffon scarf. Another incorporated hand stitched circles of yarn linked with both hand and machine embroidery. Some included vertical running yarns with gaps to be "bridged". Others were denser. Each answered an old question, asked a new question, and related to my ideas for future work as well as current ideas. Most test the boundaries of such contemporary approaches. All related to the strata of the earth. This series, as well as the other, are still on-going. I have not begun to exhaust the possibilities.

Finally, you "googled" my name and only looked at a few pages...whatever you could absorb in all of two minutes and fifty second (according to my quite unbiased site meter) and determined that my interests have shifted and that I had to have been bored with my fiber work and had moved on to something else.

You couldn't be further from the truth if you tried. For the past two years I have been working with artist and altered books WHILE I work on my first and true love...FIBERS! If you had scrolled down a few blog post entries, you would have seen that I'd been profiled by Cyndi Lavin. Cyndi contacted me due to my altered books. Profiles such as hers are conducted a month in advance. I held the posts about the newly altered books in order to coordinate my blog posts about them with her profile about me. The results have been hundreds of hits to both blogs from all over the world.

Also, altered books of this nature take weeks upon weeks to create. The two most recent books were made WHILE I was busy working on the pieces for the Francis Marion Show. Basically, it's good time management skills....collage a little, stitch while it dries, collage a little, stitch while it dries....etc.

There's been no shift in my work, no boredom with my fiber explorations, and no abandonment of embroidery/fibers in favor of another media. If you continue to read my blog or spend more than three minutes looking at even two weeks worth of past work (and/or future work), this will be more than obvious.

I also do not refer to my embroidery or my altered books or anything I create as "stuff". I would NEVER refer to YOUR work (which I have never had the pleasure of seeing) or anyone else's artwork as "stuff". It's ART. It's FINE CRAFT. It's precious! It is certainly not STUFF.

I'm happy that you left the exhibition THINKING. I hope my response to your "review" will also give you cause to THINK!

Also, I most cordially invite you to my studio and/or my business. My studio is located at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, 808 Lady Street in downtown Columbia, SC. I spend time there each and every day and try to put in at least 35 hours a week creating artwork. My business, Mouse House, Inc. is located at 2123 Park Street, also in downtown Columbia. (803) 254-0842. My cell number is (803) 606-9804. My husband and I live above the shop which features antiquarian prints, decorative mirrors, and my fiber arts. We'd love to have you come by for a glass of wine and good conversation. By the way, there's a gallery opening at the studio this Friday night. The exhibition is called "FAME FACTOR" and it is being presented by Wim Roefs of if Art Gallery. More information is available on the calendar section of the gallery's website (which I manage). It can be accessed at

Your blog entry has cause me to think as well. I've written things that likely weren't as well researched as they ought to have been. I thank you for reminding me of this fact. I will write more of my opinions from now on with a few more minutes of research at the least. After all, the world of fibers is too small for me to risk injury to another by a few sour words among an otherwise nice review.