In June the gallery manager and curator of the Bellefonte Art Museum asked if I had a textile piece I would like to install in their Sharon McCarthy Memorial Garden. I said “Yes, I would love to,” knowing that I had nothing appropriate. After all, I had three months. It was an unusual space, outside and under a staircase.
I thought about it in an abstract sense for the first two months. In the meantime I took road trips to the Outer Banks and Indiana, started talking to my estranged ex and accepted a full time job as a social worker. At month three I realized belatedly, I didn’t want to make a two dimensional piece. In an unrelated thought process (Oh, but it’s all related) I was reflecting about how difficult it was to place many ocean creatures as flora or fauna. I immediately decided to make something reminiscent of sea tubes and barnacles. Unfortunately, my mock ups were a little too reminiscent of other animal parts. A lot of artists explore sexuality and the duality of the masculine and feminine, but I had just inadvertently mocked up a strap-on and a fleshlight. After an emergency critique from a friend, the tube got tossed and the fleshlight became a sessile suspension feeder once again.
And now with a secure vision and two weeks until the install date I had to manufacture 35 softly structured hexagons of various sizes, complete with lining and batting. That’s 630 pieces of fabric. They needed to be cut, tied, dyed, adorned and sewn. Totally under control.
I had originally wanted the barnacles to connect together seamlessly in a smooshy, randomized fabric U shape. I also wanted it to have interactive qualities. To reach that end, I put two to three neodymium magnets in each barnacle so that they could be playfully rearranged. It was only partially successful. The magnets I used were strong enough to attach the pieces, but too difficult to find quickly once embedded in the fabric. I needed larger magnets for the barnacles to have actually supported each other without some sort of secondary attachment. My friend and I, at the last minute, attached the barnacles to a cotton fishing net (authentic ocean smell!) with tiny brass safety pins. The choice made the shapes less abstract and more representational. However, once the installation is down, the barnacles will be abstracted once again and able to be piled and maneuvered with the magnets as the stabilizing factor.
Once I hit the sewing stage, I got a little bit panicky. The project being under control was an illusion. I still had a week, but my new job also started within that time frame. After a few days without sleep, I enlisted my friends and family, shelving the question Is it still my art if someone else fabricates it? I was still sewing the Saturday morning of the install date before I left for my current job. After work, I rushed back home, gathered the almost completely finished barnacles and rushed them and my friend to the museum. We spent three hours installing the piece and finished at the last possible moment.
I received positive feedback from the gallery. Always appreciated. And I was able to return to seven glorious hours of sleep a night.
Mom, Bonnie, Karen, Abby and Ben- THANK YOU for your help.