Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The last post

So, this past Thursday, I made my last visit to the Anne Wilson show.  I had hoped to make it back to watch the weaving being tied off the loom, but alas a spring cold interfered and my last time winding was my last time in the exhibit.  It was different from my other experiences.  This was the first visit when no other visitor was winding at the same time as was I.  I also felt myself trying to stick to my previous post's resolution to work in a more meditative way, and focus less on the production.  As I wound, I realized that the bobbins I made would definitely not be used in the weaving.  This was a somewhat startling recognition.  Previously, although I realized that there was no guarantee that my bobbins would get woven into the large weaving, they held the potential to be a part of this piece.  In this case, knowing that I was working near the end of the day, and that the weaver was working on the closing rows of weft just as I wound my bobbins, I knew that these bobbins would not make it into the weaving.  It was a strange feeling of futility.  Through my conversations with Anne, I have some knowledge that the bobbins will be re-purposed in some way, either by her, or by someone to whom the bobbins are donated, somewhere, however this future is unknown and uncertain.   I wondered, if on the last day a factory is open, how the workers adjust their attitudes.  It seems that it would be easy to give into the futility, stop working, give up early.  It also seems that there is a dignity to continuing through the process regardless of the certain future.  So, I shrugged off the uncertain future of my bobbins and tried to enjoy the last moments of this process.  This activity, that for the past 15 weeks has occupied a small part of my week, but a large part of my life.  This project has given me many realizations, about my own work, and about my process.  It has been invaluable to sit down and reflect, to form my disjointed musings into complete paragraphs.  I am thankful to those who followed these posts, and I am thankful have been a part of the community that came together to complete this amazing piece set in motion by Anne Wilson.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bobbins and Easter Eggs

When I was a child, I loved dying Easter eggs.  My family was not particularly religious, and the activity was much more about the craft than the holiday.  We would spend hours gathered around the dining room table, each dying a handful of eggs.  Wax resists, masking tape stencils, multiple dye baths with eggs immersed for varying times were employed to make each egg unique and complex.  Later, as a college student, I helped my roommate set up an egg dying party for a few of the kids she babysat.  I hadn't dyed eggs in years and I was looking forward to the afternoon I had set aside.  Little did I know that very few families dye eggs with the same dedication that had been cultivated in my family.  That afternoon, two dozen eggs were plopped in and out of the dye cups and the table abandoned within a matter of minutes.  I was shocked, and slightly horrified. 
I was thinking about this occurrence as I wound bobbins this past Easter Sunday.  As you may note, time has been flying by in my world, making my weekly blog a little less weekly than I had anticipated.  And, while I still enjoy each visit to the Local Industry exhibit, I have found that my proficiency in winding bobbins has almost diminished the mesmerizing effect they once had.  I can wind quickly, plopping my bobbins into the collection tub much like the plop, plop, plop of quickly dyed eggs.  In some regards, this is perhaps a desired effect.  All visitors are workers in the factory to create this large piece of cloth, and my repeated experience, my commitment to this blog, gives me some sensation of "clocking in".  Perhaps in the coming weeks I will attempt to savor the last few weeks of this exhibit, to revert back to my meditative nature within this space, because all visitors are also collaborators in this exhibit.  They have free choice over the colors they wind, the combination of threads they choose, the amount they contribute.  As I overheard one child remark on Sunday, "It's like being an artist."  Duly noted.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Last week, as I was lecturing on photography, I showed my students the work of Lewis Hine.  Issues of labor, and factory labor in particular, are implicit in the Local Industry exhibition, but were particularly fresh in my mind as I went to the museum on Sunday.  I have never worked in a factory, so I have a mingle of ideas about what factory labor is, was, would be like based on various fictional and non-fictional accounts.  When I first arrived at the museum on Sunday, Nick DeFord was adding bobbins onto the spectrum wall, Chris Molinski was making quills along with Michael Milano (whose lecture I sadly missed Saturday) and other visitors were making bobbins and chatting amiably.  There was a level of comfort and familiarity that felt very much like a work environment, different people working on different tasks with a common purpose.  I suppose my romance with this factory setting made me realize that my day to day life, over the past year, is much more solitary than was my life during graduate school, or my previous jobs.
I settled into winding my bobbins, enjoying the camaraderie, and thinking more about factory life.  After Chris, Nick and Michael left the exhibit, it was quiet for a few moments, and then a woman with four children came into the space.  And soon after that, another woman and her child arrived as well.  All the children actively wanted to wind the bobbins.  I thought about how exuberantly and readily children participate and express their excitement, as opposed to the more reserved interest we express as adults.  One of the volunteers helped the children pick out spools of thread, got them started winding, and away they went.  They looked on at each others' progress, helped one another and when finished with one bobbin announced to one another that they were starting a second bobbin.

It is a reward to me, as I go to the museum week after week, to always see visitors at the exhibit, and even better, visitors that are excited about the project.  I feel a sense of pride for Anne, for the KMA, for art in general, as I watch people engage in the space.  As I watched these kids wind, and wind and wind I also felt grateful that this experience was a novelty to them.  I thought of the Lewis Hine photographs, of young children working in textile mills, only a hundred years ago, not for the joy of spinning a bobbin, but by force of others or circumstance.  I tried not to get mired in thoughts of the many children across the world that are still exploited as a labor.  Instead, I concentrated on the gratitude I felt in having a Sunday afternoon free to wind some colorful bobbins, and watch a group of children help make art. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words?

I had some intentions about writing this week about ownership, authorship, and various complications of a collaborative work of art....
However, following putting up a show of my own work last week and now being on vacation, well I just can't get my brain to move into the mode of complex paragraphs and thoughts.  I did however visit the museum to wind some bobbins before I left Knoxville for the weekend, so enjoy the visual component of my afternoon.  More substantial thoughts next week...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Obligation and Evidence

I went to the museum on Wednesday for my weekly bobbin winding session.  When I arrived, there were four young men at the front table working on winding their bobbins.  One of the things I like about this project is speculating on the motives of the visitors to the Local Industry exhibit.  Of course, it would be easy enough for me to interview everyone I encounter, find out how and why their involvement came about, but I like supposing.  There was a sense that their visit was required in some way.  They wound their bobbins, one answering a phone call mid-winding, and left. Check.  Bobbins wound.  What's next?
This was in contrast to the two ladies that came in next, sat down to wind bobbins, and continued to wind one after the other, periodically remarking that, "they could do this for hours".  As they left, they remarked on the therapeutic nature of the process.  The two docents at the museum wandered through the exhibit, tidying the work tables, periodically evaluating the bobbins, sometimes unwinding and rewinding a portion that had lost tension, salvaging bobbins that, otherwise, would have been unusable to the weavers.  I find myself at the middle of these levels of obligation.  Like the docents, I am a volunteer.  This project is something I've undertaken because of my interest in Anne's project, the KMA, and as an experiment in writing a weekly article.  My interest is genuine, and my obligation is of my own choosing, however, at times  I also have the feeling of checking my visit off my list.  Check. Bobbins wound.  What next?  But like many things that begin as obligations, I find I remember why I undertake them through the process.  I, too, find therapy in the accumulating thread.  This week, I wound tranquil turquoise, green and flaxen yellow.  Renewed, I moved on to the next thing.

(This week I took pictures of my bobbins and all the other bobbin boxes in the factory.  They become evidence of personality.  I love that.  Perhaps more on this idea next week.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Yesterday, I found that it was Tuesday.  Over a week from my last blog post, which means last week came and went without having wound a single bobbin, or sat down to write some reflection upon doing so.  Off I went.  Perhaps in an effort to regain momentum, or in an effort to lend some color to the gray day that was hanging over Knoxville, or to fulfill my promise to not only wind bobbins of soft, heathery, muted colors I went straight over to the spool table and picked the brightest color I saw.  Vermilion.  Shiny, rich, vermilion.  I wound four or five bobbins of that, then some yellow, then green, then a mix of red and orange.
This arresting mix of colors was actually a bit difficult to come by, as it appeared that many of the bright colors had been used up, and there seemed to be many more of the soft, grayish, pinkish colors, which I usually favor.   

Next week I'll be able to sink into those soft colors.
I don't know if it was because I felt like I was playing catch up, or because I was picking these bold colors, but yesterday's winding was not the meditation I have previously fallen into.  I felt hurried and slightly agitated.  My thoughts felt more fleeting and less concrete, but I have been thinking over a couple of things since yesterday.
My harried winding made me think of Rapunzel, wondering in anguish how she would wind straw into gold, which made me start thinking about how familiar we are with textile work as a backdrop to our fairy tales, but without the experience to understand that process.  Sleeping Beauty's sleep is preceded by a prick of a spindle, which she is enticed into using, due to her unfamiliarity with the object.  I found myself wondering if a modern sixteen year old would have the fascination to attempt to spin some yarn, just out of curiosity.  If the Local Industry exhibit is any indication, yes.  Each time I am at the museum, a visitor to the museum actively engages in the exhibit, with curiosity and enthusiasm.  Sometimes, these are people familiar and engaged in the textile world already, but most, it appears to me, are finding fascination with a process that has been removed from their vernacular.  It is unknown to me how much these visitors consider the layers of implications that this show presents.  Labor, time, worth, the textile industry, globalization, economy....
All these layers are one of the reasons I became interested in this project, and why I committed to writing this blog.  I felt (and continue to feel) that week after week I would find some new aspects to uncover.  This week, I uncovered challenge.  It was a challenge to get here, considering this third post belonged to the third week of the exhibit.  It was a challenge to deal with colors that I find counter-intuitive and counter-meditative.  It was a challenge to write this post.  And yet, I relish this challenge.  I struggle often to encourage my students to think of art beyond something to please and comfort, to embrace the challenge.  (You can guess how I might describe this effort.)  What I find alluring about being in the Local Industry room, is the levels of challenge.  There are some heavy concepts here.  There is also this beautiful wall of color.  There is this growing bolt of fabric, made by all those who have given freely to this piece.  This exhibit makes room for all of these levels of interest, engagement, and challenge, from the complex contemplation of local versus global, manufactured versus handmade, to the simple pleasure of a rainbow of color.  It is a good lesson for me to heed, and to allow the challenges I embrace to be balanced by the pleasures I take.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Time and Labor

Time and labor.  These unquantifiable properties, that are most often thought of in relation to their value, their measure.  How much time?  How much work? What is all of this worth?  I think about my time and labor often; more often than I would like at times.  As I find my way as a teacher, artist, volunteer, (and like many blooming teachers and artists, server at a local restaurant) I am often asked, either by others or myself to quantify my time, my labor.  It's rare that I feel I'm getting what I deserve monetarily from many of these pursuits, but, it's worth it.  How do I know this?  I don't.  What is interesting about all of these constructs: time, money, labor; is that the value they hold is not inherent, it is assigned.  Not only assigned, but guarded by each of us.  None of us want to waste our time, our work, our worth.
These were among my thoughts I as made my way to the museum yesterday, organizing my "to do" list in my head, and thinking: given how guarded many of us are about sharing our money or time or labor, the willingness of people to volunteer to contribute to this work of art is really quite amazing.

It's funny how experience can confirm your musings.  When I arrived at the museum, the first evidence I saw of volunteer contributions made to the piece, was in the bobbin wall.  It definitely appeared to me to be thicker with more spools of thread.  Also, more telling were the bobbins that, rather than being composed of one thread or analogous threads, were contrasting threads combined on one bobbin, giving subtle spice to the smooth spectrum. 

I also saw depleted quantities of quills, the paper spindles on which the bobbins are wound.  I sat down to create more of these first.  A woman, who was waiting on a group of friends also sat down to make quills with me.  It seemed that her group, part of a weaver's guild, had come to the museum with the task of making quills.  All museum visitors can make quills as well as bobbins, but the process is a bit more finicky, and does not reap the reward of watching the thread build into a colorful little mas
Shortly thereafter, Jason Brown's sculpture class, from UTK came into the exhibit and were led through the bobbin winding process by Chris Molinski.
It was so satisfying to see the whole room filled with participants.  The room is designed very much like a factory, in rows all facing the same direction, so the sounds become hushed small words between people sitting next to one another as they focus on their task.  A friend from the class comes to sit next to me, and like me, he becomes amazed by the whirring thread.  He mentions he'd like to come back and bring friends.
This contrast between the overall construct of this piece: that visitors become laborers, factory workers doing a repetitive task, their small part becoming a colorful stripe in the cloth against the individual experience of creating each bobbin, the meditation that occurs, the focus on a small thread, is such a lovely metaphor.  The key to this balance seems to be the color.  I wonder if we were all endlessly winding gray thread if we would feel the same ownership, the same sense of value in our efforts.
I take a relatively small spool of gray thread from the table and get to winding.  I figure I can probably finish off this spool in the time I've allotted to be at the museum today.  I will test my tolerance for uniformity.  I wind the first bobbin of gray thread.  It's smooth and a good weight and winds smoothly.  I wind two more.  I abandon my experiment.  I need pink. And yellow, and blue. Gray just doesn't seem worth it today.