I recently facilitated an Indigo vat workshop at the SEFAA center in Atlanta. The focus was on learning about quick-reduction alternatives. (Fn 1). Naturally, we were dyeing with indigo as well. In the workshop we used a simple paste resist, along with traditional Japanese “mechanical” resist techniques, to make marks on our cloth. I, for one, came home feeling inspired by the spirit of exploration and experimentation shown by the participants. Lots of interesting results!
For artists/craftspeople/designers creating in the modern/post-modern reality, Indigo and its related processes offer elements of a studio “meta” practice which can provide a means of merging our deep archaic (pre-rational) and more recent, modern/postmodern (rational) sensibilities. Taking the time to witness the transformation of Indigo, from a pigment (its leuco “clear” state) to a dye accessible to fiber (its blue state), monitoring a vat on a daily basis and keeping it active – these can be conscious, intentional acts which begin to imbue the simple Indigo dyeing experience with deeper meaning. It does seems to me that to incorporate Indigo into our textile and fiber practice – to dye, spin, weave, stitch, print, paint, wear, utilize, admire – is to infuse our creative cycles with its essence and be invited to surrender to the larger Mystery, if only temporarily. And that is a very good thing. (Fn 2)
1. For the uninitiated, indigo manifests its blue color through an oxidative/reductive chemical process which is pretty cool and makes it distinct from other dyestuffs (except those derived from plants closely related to it). I am not a chemist although I am learning.
2. I hasten to add that there are many profound and elevated wisdom/spiritual traditions existing around the world – if you follow one of these paths, pursuing any creative process is an adjunct practice with deep historic and cross-cultural roots.
I am happy to announce the second installment of my natural dye series at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. This time, we will look at two ways of achieving blue using natural Indigo pigment, one “chemical” and one “organic.” The synthetic pre-reduced indigo alternative will also be considered. This is a two-day workshop. We’ll build the vats on Day 1 and prepare samples for immersion, including pieces printed with a simple paste resist. Day 2 will be dedicated to using the vats, comparing and contrasting results. Saturday, February 8th through Sunday, February 9th. Both Sessions: 1-5 pm. For details visit: SEFAA Center/Indigo
It has been a full month since my last post. Teaching/facilitating technique through one-on-one, small and large group gatherings has become a more regular feature of my weekly activity list. Among other things, Indigo has figured prominently in this work. As noted elsewhere, I have also increasingly incorporated other natural dyes into my creative practice and will be facilitating another workshop this July at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. See the sidebar for the link.
I have had three opportunities to share the indigo experience this year so far. One I mentioned in my last post. The two most recent were quite contrasting experiences: In one case, I worked with pre-reduced indigo serving 80+ participants during a “Family Fun Day” at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta; in the other, I facilitated a gathering of two at my home studio, where we worked with resist paste and an organic indigo vat. Both events were inspiring, energizing and life-affirming. Here are some images:
Things have been quite busy in the studio and I realize I have not posted since November of 2018! (Again, best laid plans – I am beginning to see pattern here (wince)!) However, after this little update, I have some natural dye reflections I initiated back in March and never got around to publishing, among other things. As “archaic” as this format sometimes seems, it still has relevance across the spectrum. For me, it serves a real purpose, which I had lost track of for a spell but now reclaim: writing as process-witness.
My practice continues to evolve. Two full years after a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I never thought I would find myself in a hopeful place around my studio work…but I do again. I finally found my way back to the heart of the work, to my true flow, and that feels pretty fabulous. The work begins to look and feel different to me although clearly on the continuum of a process begun so many years ago. And while I have never been one to rest too long on one technique – I am sure that is my Aries nature – I am still working with cloth and fiber because there is still so much there to explore!
So, before I resume essay-esque pursuits, I thought I might just provide an update for the record – a brief flashback to the first several months of 2019 as a way of clearing the way for whatever is to come.
January: Lots of natural dye experimentation – mostly direct application and immersion variations with indigo, madder, tannins and ferrous after-baths. Began working on my new wearable collection for the April open studio. I also began experimenting with alternate hand-stitch processes which have now been incorporated into some of my wearable work. In the midst of the studio experimentation, I was immersed in preparations for a presentation on Sustainable Making at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance.
February: I continued working with natural dyes, mostly direct application with gum thickeners, exploring layering of color and assistants in various floating (unregistered) patterns on a wide range of cloth surfaces. The process of working with natural dyes is much more labor- and time-intensive than working with their synthetic alternatives and because of this, the work feels almost contemplative. I want to explore this entire complex topic in future posts. But for now, suffice it to say that natural dye print processes are now a solid part of my studio practice. Also ever-present now is my organic indigo vat, and I did get around to making some new pieces for a local craft pop-up and the first installment of the 2019 wearables.
March 2019: My time in March was largely spent preparing for the April open studio, although I did take some time to facilitate an indigo-dyeing mini-workshop at the studio one fortuitously-gorgeous Spring morning. I also received my copy of The Art and Science of Natural Dyes (yay!) and reflected on my early exposure to natural dyes with Catharine Ellis which work has so thoroughly enriched my current studio practice.
In April – I hosted an open studio and continued to develop more work, including a new collection of totes, as well as naturally dyed cloth, and stitched appliqué detailing. All of my wearable work is presented under the label Petal-una Collection. This line has been an active focus of my creative energy since 2012. If you want to learn more about it and see more looks follow this link.
All of which brings me to the present moment. I will save that for next time! Meanwhile for fairly regular and consistent check-ins, I am on Instagram and FB – the links are scattered throughout this website. If you would prefer to keep up via this blog, that is awesome too!
Sometimes all it takes for an artist is a show – it arrives at the perfect moment and can serve as a fuel for future creative reflection extending well beyond the original encounter. Such has been my experience peering into the world of Yayoi Kusama.* The inspiration derived from seeing the diverse body of work (and media) of an artist insistent on asserting an authentic, personal vision (one which not so paradoxically turns out to be deeply resonant for the many), is unparalleled. I was overwhelmed by this artist’s impressive body of work, her years of dogged pursuit, dedication, and perseverance, not to mention her non-binary, multifaceted defiance of any outside attempt to categorize or pigeon-hole her work and life. There was something very pointed and powerful for me in this individual’s career and life, in spite of her struggles along the way. And she continues to create in the face of it all, including, surely, an acute awareness of her own mortality as she transitions into her 10th decade.
I feel certain art-making is Yayoi Kusama’s way of transmuting her suffering (chaos, confusion, pain, alienation, etc.). This must be, in part, why her work and life are so interesting to inhabitants of the chaotic early 21st century. It really speaks to the entire spectrum of the human condition across time and place but which finds its most unrestrained expression in the digital era: self-indulgence, self-transcendence, hopes, fears, failure, success, struggle, resistance, outrage, protest, surrender, highs, lows, light, dark, expansion, contraction, contradiction, loud, quiet, hard, soft, contemplative, monkish, introspective, riding the continuum of an life through successive waves of profound confusion and self-doubt as well as profound insight and self-acceptance.
I was and still am enveloped.
Part II. Layers, Siftings and Further Musings in a Transitional Era.
Yayoi Kusama’s work will continue to stimulate my thinking in a variety of ways for months to come, but as I am now constantly grappling with art/craft/making in an era of increasing resource limits and crisis-level climate alterations, I also wanted to look at her work through a more narrow lens. Regardless of what we all personally “believe”/accept about climate change, we are approaching the Earth’s carrying capacity (i.e., its capacity to carry humans in our current configuration) on many resource fronts. This has implications for every aspect of human life, but in the context of creative endeavor generates many deep and serious questions, not the least of which are: Is it possible to, and how can we, develop a sensibility in our making that can integrate and nurture humanity, other species, as well as the environment we share? And what does an “aesthetic of sustainability” look like and, importantly, can that become as universally embraced as the fossil-fuel driven aesthetic seems to be today? One might ask if these questions and their answers even matter at all, but I think the do. It is my belief that their answers can contribute to how successfully we collectively respond to our many current and future challenges.
We don’t need to look too far into the past to find a time when sustainable making was the only kind of making. Today many draw attention to, for example, wabi-sabi and related aesthetic concerns as antithetical rescue remedies for the excesses of the industrially created artifact: something rustic, direct, uncomplicated, salvaged, organic, entropy-embracing. As I reflect on Kusama-world, I am struck by how much our expectations and aesthetic values are outgrowths of the instant-gratification, fossil-fuel -driven world we all inhabit, and how her work is quite possibly this waning era’s most vivid and exuberant expression.
From a materials standpoint alone, Kusama’s work is saturated with acrylic paint, a wide range of plastics and other petroleum-derived components, as well as vast arrays of electric light. These are the materials for the vast majority of 20th and early 21st century artists/designers/makers. These are also peak fossil-fuel-consumption-era materials, by-products of processes contributing to habitat-degrading greenhouse gas emissions. Include the energy and resources embedded in manufacturing these materials and components, the embedded and operational energy of a large scale exhibition of this type and its mass-manufactured “swag” (which, as a child of this space/time I will admit to being attracted), and the energy embedded in the cloud-dependent mass social-media feeds (to which I am also a steady contributor and participant), and we have a completely unsustainable model …unless of course we can very quickly (like, yesterday) develop an energy source dense enough to match the miracle of fossil-fueled energy, one that doesn’t destroy the habitability of our planet!
It is a poignant moment. I am clearer than ever as an artist/designer/maker as to my own purpose and vision and how to manifest it; I am also increasingly aware that I need to find new (or return to earlier) ways of creating to reduce my ecological footprint. Rhetorical question: Are the imperative to create and the imperative to reduce my footprint mutually exclusive?
We live in an era of dissonance at many levels of our lives. We attempt to hold many truths which are ultimately mutually exclusive. So it is for fossil fuels: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. This fact is one source of a host of misunderstandings and conflicts, of mis- and mal- investment, of alienation from wealth and power on one end of the spectrum and the dense consolidation of wealth and power on the other. In an era of transition, we will be looking for ways to hold on to whatever we can of the by-products of this energy system, even if to do so endangers our core support system. We hope something will come along to save us before we are forced to make hard choices. This dissonance can be paralyzing, and it shows no signs of abating as new generations come of age. It suggests a repeating “error” code firing in our brains coupled with an increasingly dysfunctional “reset” switch.
And so it is, at the likely twilight of fossil-fuel driven exuberance, that Yayoi Kusama’s work is a beautiful, joyous, riotous, inspiring symbol of life. Her work and being are also about persistence and resilience. I think we flock to its material abundance and ebullience for comfort and affirmation in an uncertain age. I love the show for this but I am also sobered by it because it reminds me of the hard work ahead. We artists and makers especially must work to realize a new, unified, resilient vision of person and planet and stay the course in the same way that Kusama has continued to work her entire life to realize her unique vision – it’s demanding, arduous and on-going. That is the nature of making/creating, of life and work….And it’s all-hands-on-deck now. K.C.
Images: My own, taken during the show (except from the large composite above: a friend captured the frequently elusive shot from the Dots Obsession viewer): some composites of highlights; my digital montage of Kusama’s celluloid montage, and mash-up selfies from The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and Phalli’s Field.
*Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors! is showing now at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta – I received a gift invitation to the show or I would not have made it at all as tickets are, alas, sold out. However, there are numerous windows into this show and her work on YouTube and elsewhere on the fabulous Internet. Check it out!