I grew up in the 70s, before the video game craze. So, I played outside a lot. While outside I remember being aware of and thinking about how everything was touching something else…. Everything was connected. The grass that I was sitting on was also touching my house, which was touching the driveway, which was also touching the grass, to the trees and then the leaves, which were touching the air and the sky, which was also touching me…
Textures were often something that I noticed as a child and still do today. My paternal grandparents were farmers. When I was a kid I loved to play in their monstrous barn. I remember the floor specifically, a dirt floor. I can still feel it... so fine, powdery, and soft. It told a story. You could see every boot print, tire track, every little step the kittens took. For hours I could get lost on that massive, horizontal, 3D, chalkboard.
When visiting my grandparents on my mother’s side, in their tiny kitchen, my grandma and I would make little fridge magnets out of nylon, cotton balls, and thread. I remember being fully mesmerized and imagining all of the possibilities that could be made… just from some scraps around the house. So, even today, when everyone else looks at a cotton ball and just sees a cotton ball… Not only do I think of my grandmother, but also a long history… cotton pickers, African Americans in fields, the growth of the plant, the care that it took. So, if a little ball of cotton can bring up thoughts of history, memories, feelings, and emotions… what about other materials?
My first year of grad school, I started experimenting with different elements. I found myself contemplating their meaning… what they communicate or convey. There’s something about fabric. It connects us in a way that nothing else tangible does (not even dirt). We all wear it, sleep on it, and use it every day. Fabric can be soothing and comforting or it can be rough and uncomfortable. Even in the poorest of countries, cloth is used, touched, worn, and felt. It keeps us warm. It keeps us cool. It keeps us hidden. It can make us stand out in a crowd or blend in. We use it to protect our bodies from freezing temperatures or our hands from a scalding hot oven. We can wash our skin with it and hang it up for privacy or protection from the sun.
[In the U.S. alone, we generate an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles per year of which less than 15% is donated or recycled. This leaves more than 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) per year. This amount is increasing every year.]
Fabrics tend to have a strong influence on who we are. The clothes that we wear impact how we see and feel about ourselves and others. In everyday interactions, the clothes that we choose to wear serve as a critical site of identity performance. In conveying who we are to other people, our bodies and our clothing project information about ourselves. The fabrics that we use as a part of our routine, (meaning the fabrics that touch our skin on a regular basis) help contribute to what defines our identity as individuals and as a culture. What touches our skin, what we feel, regularly becomes a component of us. Just as what we see, hear, and read…all becomes a part of who we are. It’s like trying to un-see something. You can’t, that image is now in your brain and is a part of you… whether you wanted to see it or not. All of these things, with repetition, have an effect on our thoughts, words, and even our character.
Like everything else (including our bodies), fabrics do age. The fabrics that I use are old, discarded, or unwanted which means they have a history. These materials have repeatedly been in contact with someone’s skin. The textiles themselves don’t have a Memory, but they do have the ability to produce human recollection. By cutting these discarded textiles into small pieces they can be used as filler. Each piece then represents a moment, a familiar time, an experience, or a memory.
When the remnants are inserted into sheer nylon they can be shaped and formed into a figure. I started exploring what these abstract figures communicate individually, in masses, and in photographs. By photographing mass quantities the formation of a crowd becomes visible. When looking at this crowd I became aware of the fusion of individual minds into one collective mind. Individuality of each is stripped and becomes absent. Gender becomes irrelevant. The clothing worn by each individual is now insignificant and carries no value, no memory.
What if we were to strip away all that fabric brings with it. Now, I’m not saying that we should all walk around naked, heaven forbid. But, what if we were to strip away all of the classifications, cut designated stereotypes into pieces, tear apart all normalized predispositions. When one’s identity is removed of all social constructs, when one’s security blanket has been shed, there is a failure to achieve ego. This offers an opportunity to see and to know each other on a more personal level. It makes our similarities more visible.
This process of cutting the materials gives new identity to the fabric, giving it a new purpose and a new meaning. This process of deconstruction and reconstruction became an exploration of individuality and self- identification. By repairing and rebuilding the pieces there is hope of discovery or rediscovery of the self. As we look back at our own individual history, personal choices, and circumstances it helps us to understand how we arrived where we are now. But, if we do not like the now, we need to tear apart our past and reshape it, give it a new purpose. Everyone has their own personal history, struggles, and their own life story. As unique individuals in a world of multiple cultures it is so easy to find many differences between us. Fabrics possess connections that human beings share. We are all woven together as we share the dirt on this rock. This work is about exploring humanity’s correlations rather than our differences.
My hope is that while we all still celebrate our differences.. that we don’t forget how similar and connected we truly are.