“Cocoon: Fibers of Home” at 1628 Ltd. suits the time. The exhibition’s title perfectly describes the concept behind the show that features the work of Annabel Biernat, R. Darden Bradshaw, Denise Burge, Casey Dressell, Katherine Gibson, Heather Jones, Genevieve Lavalle, Maggie Myers, Eden Quispe, Ann Rebele, Kate Spencer, and Emily Van Walleghen.
Co-curators Missy D’Angelo and Kacie Finnegan explain, “Home is a place of comfort, and it is arguably your most personal space… In a time where most of us are spending more time than ever at home, it is only natural for inspiration to be drawn from the domestic surroundings of our living spaces.”
Home has become a cocoon, protection against a hostile world. When life returns to normal, a new normal, when we have herd immunity and lockdown measures are lifted, butterflies are going to emerge, hopefully still well masked.
The exhibition’s title–“Cocoon: Fibers of Home1–has a footnote: “An Exhibition of Female Fiber Artists” (March is Women’s history month). The fiber arts are customarily associated with the fair sex: weaving, crocheting, embroidery, sewing, dyeing, appliqué, tufting, etc., and the artists have combined them in ways where the technique is not immediately recognizable. Despite the curators’ inclusion of “Female” in the title, the pieces are gender-free. Despite the opportunity to make pronouncements, the exhibition is also polemic-free.
“Stay-at-home” orders changed our lives. We “hoarded” toilet paper. Lysol wipes were as rare as hens’ teeth. And if packages of yeast were not so light, they would have been worth their weight in gold, that is if they could be found.
The interest in breadmaking exploded. Were we afraid that the bread shelves would be empty? Or were executive vice presidents taking out their frustrations by manhandling dough?
Sourdough bread needs no yeast but requires a “starter” made of fermented flour and water. Making it is simple but requires up to a week to be ready. For those short on patience, it can be purchased or another baker can give some to a newbie. It’s more than plausible that Lavalle’s That week we all made sourdough bread actually happened.
Lavalle had a business making Pom Pom earrings, which led her to tufting. It is the perfect medium to create cozy kitchen tableaux. This one looks like something from the 1950s. It’s where the housewife (yes, I’m deliberately politically incorrect) routinely baked bread. The stove is white enamel, not stainless steel. Its knobs have not been replaced by digital controls. And the broom is straw, not today’s ubiquitous plastic bristles.
Quispe’s Aliens and Demons takes place in very different kitchen. There’s nothing ordinary in this scene. The commonplace has been replaced by a dreamscape that the woman resting her head on the table is envisioning. The cellphone at hand and the ZzzQuil owl at her side locate her in a time closer to ours. The artist has attached crocheted doilies and a bit of tatting and tacked on a red potholder on the right corner over a painted red square. For her the work is nostalgic, recalling her grandmothers and aunts who sewed, knit, and embroidered.
Quispe shares that she “illustrates womanhood of past and present.” An angel, who could have flown in from an early Renaissance Annunciation or Nativity, floats above/over a background of stylized palms or fans or Art Deco wallpaper. A divine light pours in through the nine-pane window. To bring her down to earth, Quispe has written “woman” over her body. On the counter the artist has spelled out the source of the title: “My father always said aliens were really demons.” Today there are many who demonize illegal aliens.
There are artists who took ordinary home fashions–shams and a throw pillow–for their artistic interventions. In Seed I and Seed II, Casey Dressell painted and embroidered on nicely plumped pillow shams. She appliquéd abstract shapes on the shams turning them into abstract paintings.
And there’s Annabel Biernat’s oddly shaped Throw Pillow (Sauer House). I liked the air conditioner that was mis-installed. Instead of the box-y back of the cooling unit, you see the front with the vent and controls.
In Pressed, Burge leaves the house and presents a view beyond a chain-link fence that stops abruptly and leaves the house and grounds without a barrier. At first glance the scene makes sense, but like Biernat’s Throw Pillowsomething’s off. A closer look at this impeccably crafted hanging reveals that the elements don’t come together as expected. Looking through the fence, there is a sidewalk; a roadway with patches of marigold, puddles or potholes; a brick section that extends into the road. I don’t know what the white rectangular markings on the far side of the street are for. The plants pressing against the fence block the view of them. When they can be seen again, the rectangles are smaller and slanted like parallelograms. In the distance there is a marina where sailboats are moored. With their sails stored, their denuded masts are silhouetted against a dying sunset and cast shimmering shadows on the water.
Back to the fence. It has a sign but there is no writing on the back to give a clue to what it might say. Various lush tropical plants crammed into a small plot press against the fence and one has actually breached it. The title obviously comes from this bit of the scene, but “pressed” also has a fabric-related meaning. Nice.
What drew to me to Myers’ realize were the homophones for the title: “Real lies” and “Real eyes” that she had spelled out with commercially available yarns.
Balancing the intentionally unskilled execution of many pieces in the exhibition is the refinement of Rebele’s two “fabrications,” as she calls them: Southern Living and Annabelle’s Rose Garden. The works have stories to tell. Rebele has chosen grand antebellum homes as the foundation of her art quilts. Who lives in them now? Has “new” money replaced the wealth of generations who built their fortunes on the backs of their slaves? To Southerners the Civil War was the war of Northern aggression and was romanticized as the Lost Cause, their fight to preserve the Southern way of life. For them conflict was not about the emancipation of slaves. The Confederates contended that slavery was moral and just, and slaves were well treated, happy, and even grateful. For them the war was a struggle over states’ rights, including the right to secede.
Rebele prints her photographs on cloth and then enhances them by hand-dying and drawing related elements in fabric inks or paints. She’s stitched around some elements, such as the legs of a wicker table on the porch, to subtly emphasize them. The pastel palette and ghostly overlay (blooms in Southern Living and Aunt Annabella’s face over her rose garden) impart a romantic and nostalgic feel to her scenes.
The curators made no secret of what the exhibition was about: the concept of home interpreted in fiber art by women. But they didn’t get preach-y about it. Hallelujah.
–Karen S. Chambers