Thursday, November 27, 2014
For the past couple months I've been exploring new ideas and inspirations that swirl around the mental images that occurred during four lectures provided by Muddy Ford Press. These informal presentations were meant to provide background information for an upcoming exhibition called Art from the Ashes. There will be a literary publication as well as a month-long show at the Tapps Art Center. It is all very exciting, but honestly I didn't imagine this at the beginning. Why? Well, the entire event is a commemoration of Sherman's Civil War burning of Columbia. Never would I have imagined "war" and "destruction" and "fire" as the fuel for new work ... but that's exactly what happened. Work is simply pouring out of me!
Perhaps this inspiration is coming from the viewpoint stressed by Cindi Boiter and the Muddy Ford staff. They'd like to see artwork and literary pieces that take into account marginalized citizens, ordinary people, and what it must have been like to live in a city out-numbered by "the enemy". Military strategies, accounts of generals, raw statistics, and reliance on existing, first-person accounts is NOT compulsory and NOT my point of departure. I listened to all four lectures and realized that I could leave the controversial issues of blame and percentage of burning to the historian. I only needed to RESPOND in an artistic way ... say something in material that spoke to what must have been a night of terror. My imagination tried to feel the night of February 17, 1865 as "a mother", someone like I might have been.
Let me set the stage with a quotation from Wikipedia:
On February 17, 1865, Columbia surrendered to Sherman, and Wade Hampton Confederate cavalry retreated from the city. Union forces were overwhelmed by throngs of liberated Federal prisoners and emancipated slaves. Many soldiers took advantage of ample supplies of liquor in the city and began to drink. Fires began in the city, and high winds spread the flames across a wide area. Most of the central city was destroyed, and municipal fire companies found it difficult to operate in conjunction with the invading army, many of whom were also fighting the fire. The burning of Columbia has engendered controversy ever since, with some claiming the fires were accidental, a deliberate act of vengeance, or perhaps set by retreating Confederate soldiers who lit cotton bales while leaving town.
So ... I've been inspired ... by the fact that COTTON, a fiber, is central to the burning of Columbia no matter who lit the bales. I've been inspired to scorch silk, wrap nails, collaborate with a local poet Al Black, and especially by the idea that vintage garments (visual suggestions of "the past" ... even though not as far back as the Civil War) could be stained with the earth and the plant life from my own Columbia backyard. I've been rusting old christening gowns and using everything from magnolia leaves to kutzu to make natural dyes.
As much as these garments reflect the burning of Columbia, I wanted to also create something beautiful to show life before the Civil War ... despite the fact that I don't really find the politics of that time period particularly pleasant and certainly not where I would have wanted to live ... ever! I wanted something "idealized", something to contrast with the sense of destruction, something to stand for the "Lost Cause". Thus, I tried my hand at flower pounding. I selected a most lovely, lacy sleeping gown. It was soaked in alum water, left to dry, and then I pounded flowers into the fibers. I used things mostly from my own backyard. The bright pink is ordinary clover.
Some of the leaves are from our hydrangea. Some of the petals were collected in lower Richland County at a farm where I picked cotton for another installation headed to this same exhibition.
I'd read about flower pounding on-line but had never seen it done. Before starting, I googled the subject and read that a mallet and unprinted newspaper should be used. I don't own either. I made due with a hammer and scraps of mat board. It worked perfect! Then, the most amazing thing occurred. I noticed that the flower imprinted itself on the mat board as well as onto the garment. Before long, I was intentionally pounding the flowers onto both ... and created twenty pieces of matted and shrink-wrapped art!
I used scraps of 100% cotton rag mat board. It seemed appropriate. I tore all the edges and matted them to 20" x 16". They will be going to the Sustainable Midlands Holiday Sale on Monday. They are, after all, ORGANIC. Yet, all the color is from the flowers ... the tiny, humble pink buds of clover that seem to grow like weeds when the grass isn't cut! I added a few pencil lines ... making the resulting work look as if it is an original watercolor. It isn't. Instead, the mark is the actual moisture and pigments from the flower itself. I don't think I could draw any blossom quite as perfectly!
Unfortunately, it is terribly difficult to adequately capture these very ethereal pieces digitally. These photos aren't the best. For one, I was hand-holding the camera ... not using a tripod. Secondly, I wasn't in an ideal lighting situation. Finally, I dropped my camera. It seemed to work alright thereafter ... except for one corner having a permanent black shadow. Then, I noticed that other images weren't crystal clear. The fine tuning of the automatic focusing isn't work. It isn't working quite as well as it should when I go off automatic. I had to face the fact that I needed a new digital camera. One has been purchased. It arrived. I'll be sharing photo of the rusted and natural dyed vintage garments soon. I had to re-shoot all thirteen garments over again. Of well! I'm not going back to re-shoot these pieces though. It's just too much work and I'm too busy making more art!
I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.
Posted by Susan Lenz at 12:12 PM