Friday, July 26, 2013

The Nature of Memory

(Above:  The Nature of Memory.  3D Mixed media assemblage.  22 1/2" x 30 1/2" x 7".  Clock casing parts, antique glass, mirror, assorted threads and yarns, half of a model brain, antique crazy quilt scraps, vintage wooden spool and thimble, clipped letters; hand stitching, wrapping and embroidery, collage.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

Over the past two weeks I've been working in my "home studio".  It is a total mess and likely always will be.  It is filled with assorted old "stuff" for making 3D assemblages.  This room has everything from tree stumps (natural pedestals) to vintage bed pans to a kindergarten painting easel to wooden crutches to all sort of nails, screws, saw blades, and other hardware.  It also has various clock parts and cases.  At one point, I had two identical clock cases.  One became Time Revolving ... but I didn't use the glass door.  The other is now The Nature of Memory ... and I used both the doors!

 (Above:  The Nature of Memory, detail.)

Instead of a hinged door, I created an appropriate, rustic wooden frame and fitted it with wavy, antique glass.  But ... how did I get to this point?  Below is part of the process!

(Above:  Ancestors, a fiber vessel filled with wrapped-and-stitched wooden spools with thumbnails of family photos collaged on the ends.)

First, I started saving all the old thread that originally was wound on all the vintage wooden spools I've used to make Ancestors.

(Above:  Box and plastic bag filled with old thread.)

At first, I used a razor blade and just cut the thread off the spools.  This was fast and easy but not nearly as attractive as actually unwinding the thread by hand.  Since I make a lot of these wrapped-and-stitched wooden spools while riding in the car, I forced myself to just unwind by hand.  It really wasn't a problem.  I could look out the window and play "license plate", a game I'm still playing since childhood.  (By the way, on our trip to Washington, DC and back to see the Sacred Thread exhibition, I saw the following:  IA, TN, MA, CA, OR, UT, ME, NY, NJ, VT, CT, NH, GA, WV, VA, NC, SC, FL, DC, FL, OH, PA, IN, OK, TX, AL, MI, MD, MO, WI, SD, KT, IL, CO, AL, AR, KS, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.)

 (Above:  Filling the clock case with thread.)

Although I really had a lot of unwound thread, I knew it would get compacted inside the case ... even with "my brain" taking up the middle section.  I filled the bottom with the cut threads and piled the unwound thread on top.

 (Above:  The Nature of Memory, detail of half a brain and lots of unraveled thread.)

So ... where did I get the brain?

(A Difficult Decision.  Half of the model brain and a rubber heart connected by various fiber cords that are caught in a large rat trap with a tag reading:  A Difficult Decision.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Last year I had a vision for the piece above.  I couldn't make it until I saw Steve Carlson's work while at a month-long art residency in Galesburg, Illinois.  This guy uses all sorts of great, strange stuff.  In a show at the Galesburg Civic Art Center I counted three different plastic tongues.  I just knew he'd have a brain and a heart!  He did!  But I only used half a brain.  I've been thinking about the other half since then ... and finally all the unraveling thread started to make sense ... the concept of losing one's memory over time, the notion that we forget details, the idea that our thoughts are ethereal ... slipping away, fading, or being lost to Alzheimer's or because we simply forgot to listen to the stories of our ancestors before they died.  Basically ... the unwound thread inspired the piece.

(Above:  Frame and glass under weights while the glue dried.)

I pre-drilled holes in the other side of the brain and screwed it to the inside of the clock case.  Then I filled the case with the cut threads and piled on the unwound threads.  Finally, I glued the frame with glass into place and allowed it to dry overnight, under weights.

(Above:  The Nature of Memory in progress.)

The next morning, I added a wrapped-and-stitched wooden spool and vintage thimble to the top of the clock case and began working on the two doors.

(Above:  The brain and thread in the clock case ... and a close up with my camera's reflection in one of the unattached doors.)

After taking them entirely apart and cleaning all the glass, I replaced the glass, added a few strings, and put pieces of mirror into place.  (Basically, the threads are simply stuck between glass and mirror.) I like the idea that when people look at the piece they will see their own reflection.  This is meant as a subtle suggestion that their own memories are also likely to unravel, fade, or simply get lost over time.

 (Above:  The Nature of Memory in progress.  The doors are not attached ... just leaning against the clock case. The photo above also shows three pieces of antique crazy quilting ... which would become become the backing of the doors and clock case.)

So where did I get the pieces of antique crazy quilt?

 (Above:  Two of three shadowboxed pieces of an antique crazy quilt bought at auction.)

My favorite "art supply" store isn't a "real shop" at all.  It is Bill Mishoe's Estate Services, an auction house with two weekly sales.  Recently I bought three framed pieces of an antique crazy quilt.  I already have another project in mind for the shadowboxes.  I still have two of the crazy quilt sections.  In the photo above, the piece on the right was cut into three sections and used for The Nature of Memory.  (It is almost sinful to admit that I only paid $35 a piece for these works.)


(Above:  The Nature of Memory, reverse.)

Of course there was a reason why someone cut and framed this crazy quilt.  It was falling apart, especially the many silk pieces.  No problem for me!  I "over stitch".  Basically, I put a piece of recycled black acrylic felt behind each piece and did running stitches about and 1/8" apart ... while also placing tiny seeding stitches to hold especially damaged areas together.  (My felt used to be packaging material for a kayak or canoe being shipped from a manufacture to my local outdoors shop.  It's "FREE" to me while preventing it from going to a landfill!)

(Above:  Detail of over-stitched antique crazy quilt on back of one of the doors.)

After hours of stitching, I used tiny 1/4" #4 and #6 screws and a few decorative upholstery tacks to attach the fiber to the back of the doors and the back of the clock case.  Because the felt is synthetic, I cut away the excess felt using a soldering iron.

(Above:  Detail from the back of the clock case.)

I really love over-stitching antique material.  The texture is wonderful and it gives me the feeling that I'm resurrecting something neglected back into a cherished relic from the past. 

 (Above:  My container of clipped letters ... A through Z plus numbers, symbols, and a tray for little words like "the, for, of, to, in, with, and, from, on," and "in".)

The only thing left to do was add my signature.  I had a plan for that too.  Yes, of course, I'm crazy enough to clip vintage sheet music and other old magazines into individual trays by letter.  In another life, I must have been a kidnapper ... or at least enjoyed creating ransom notes!)

(Above:  The Nature of Memory, top.)

I selected my letters for the title, my name, and the date ... and collaged them on the top of the clock case.

(Above:  The Nature of Memory ... with reflections!)

I'm really pleased with this piece ... even though it was very difficult to get photographs without my reflection!
I am linking this blog post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber art work.


landscapelady said...

Wow! Amazing!

Julie said...

A great concept and execution Susan. A very moving piece.

Judy Ferguson said...

This is just an another example of your crazy genius. Beyond amazing.

Valerie the Pumpkin Patch Quilter said...

Ooooh and ahhhh - I love everything. I cannot handle the awesomeness of the Nature of Memory!!! Wonderful! :)

MulticoloredPieces said...

Lovely. I like how you've included the old quilts as backings, a background for memory.
best, nadia

Wanda said...

Beautiful. I might not have gotten it though had I not read your blog. I thought it would make a nice clock :) I do like it though and I agree, it is actually moving but I had to study it alittle and really look at everything and read every word to feel it. I don't know how you do it...but you do!

Vicky aka Stichr said...

I would be one of those looking for my memory...I can't believe how simple words escape me, and I am only 56!!

I also had a chuckle over your bins of granddaughter had to put together 'ransom' type letters for her spelling words each week. We used ice cube trays to sort the letters. {amazing how I remembered all that...hah!}

Sherri D said...

Oh you have inspired me! I have an old clock box that is similar to yours. I found it in the trash someone set out for garbage pickup. It is hard for me to go for a walk on Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings because of all the treasures I find!!!

I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing!

(here through Off the Wall Friday)

Anonymous said...

Such a wonderful concept and it's been a joy to walk through it's development in this post! I really love the way things are reused and recycled in your wark. I'm gutted I'm not going to be able to go to the NEC this year - it would have been wonderful to meet up! But we go on holiday that week. Typical!!

Cathy Perlmutter said...

Susan, this is an amazing piece. Just fantastic. I wish I could see it in person.
I've been daring myself to leap more into mixed media, and you are such an inspiration. Keep up the great work!