Led by Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue and supported jointly by MAWA and Plug In ICA, the 2014 Summer Institute brought a group of artists together to consider the theme of Feminist Description. Together we asked a number of questions about intersectionality, gender, race, privilege, art histories, and so much more. We were interested in finding ways to describe feminism, describe works as feminist, and to use feminism as a form of description. Each artist used the time and resources of the residency to produce studio works and critical writing around these ideas.
During our introductory facilities tour, I became very interested in Dan Graham's pavilion Performance Cafe with Perforated Sides on the roof of Plug In ICA. Situated on an outside terrace on the third floor of the Buhler Centre at the University of Winnipeg, the pavilion raises the international scope of Plug In's collection but remains oddly invisible and inaccessible from the street.
The pavilion materials of glass and steel are cold. In its spacial relationships to the Buhler Centre beneath it, the Winnipeg Art Gallery behind it, and the flagship Hudson's Bay Company store beside it, the pavilion is very literally aligned with institutions. Dan Graham himself cuts a rather imposing male figure on the contemporary art scene. And he casts a pretty long shadow.
At high noon (central cowboy time) on July 7 2014, I measured the shadow cast by the Performance Cafe. This was an act which took 6 minutes to complete, during which time the shadow had shifted significantly. The measurement thus became a durational performance that unintentionally responded to the pavilion's title. After producing a pattern from this measurement, I crocheted panels using stitches to invert the surface of the pavilion itself-- I described Graham's perforated steel with the tactile convolution of popcorn stitch and responded to tempered glass with colourful and variegated yarn. During the lengthy and mediative process of crochet, I produced critical writing that attempted to make links between the cultural relevance of Dan Graham's work and the trajectory of my own studio practice. Dan Graham's Big Fat Shadow offers a feminist description of the Performance Cafe with Perforated Sides through physical resemblance, material weight, and embodiments of time and process-- all aspects of my work that playfully subvert the conceptual and cultural gravity of the original.
I will add, with a smile, that reading several texts about Dan Graham's work and spending so much time with this particular piece gave me an newly educated respect for his ideas.
The inimitable Kalpna Patel organizes the Toronto Travelling Cactus Garden, a roving, multi-media, multi-artist installation that grows into each new shop window, gallery space or exhibition venue it occupies. I was thrilled to contribute crocheted models (some of them over 6' tall!) to this iteration at SMASH Salvage in The Junction during TODO 2015. This installation also featured the mind-blowing paper rocks from Alison Judd's Landslide.
This collaborative crochet work stems from two ideas about time:
The first is an observation made from the vantage point of 40 of how swiftly time passes compared to the way it seems to move for my 20-year old students. The difference convinces me of something I read once but didn’t understand until undertaking this work—that our lives, at the age of 21, are conceptually half over.
The second idea, possibly a salve for the first, is a belief that our experience of life, as we age, should increase in novelty.
Beginning with the simple increment of one stitch for each day, and working at a rate of increase that allows the shape to lie more-or-less flat, each piece in Because I Could Not Stop maps the human experience of one life. Each map is a partnership in which I crochet another person’s life as they tell it to me. Age is not the only factor affecting each shape. The collaborator whose life is depicted makes material choices about how they wish to characterize their life, assigning a particular syntax of colour or stitch type to factors such as geography, relationships, vocation, or epochs. There is no limit to the number of factors one life map can depict and each piece represents a unique negotiation between the life lived and my attempt to crochet it.
The resulting map becomes a kind of tool for observing one’s experience of life. In what kind of spaces have I spent the most time? How greatly has love and desire impacted my decisions? On what ideals have I placed the most value? Each piece is a window and a mirror.
Because I Could Not Stop is a material embodiment of my ideas about time. 365 stitches in the centre of the map make a stronger visual impact than at the outer edges, and sure enough, it is in the late 20s when the circumference of the shape exceeds 365 stitches. Though all the maps in this series share the same basic math, they are portraits as individual as my many collaborators.
This project will evolve as the works travel and I meet new people who tell new stories and ask new questions about themselves.