Monday, November 14, 2011

Emergence V: The Center Place

Emergence V: The Center Place, 44 x 44 inches, hand-dyed wool tapestry
photo: James Hart

This is the fifth piece in my Emergence series.
Here are links to the others (or you could just look at my website HERE to see them all):

Emergence I --the first of the series, helped along by some good solid design advice from James Koehler and woven while apprenticing with him in 2008-2009. It was in American Tapestry Biennial 8 as well as the Bauhaus show in Albuquerque in 2010. This tapestry is now at Weaving Southwest in Taos, NM

Emergence II --This piece was in the Bauhaus project (Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus) show at Michaeliskirche in Erfurt, Germany. From there it went to Weaving Southwest in Taos where it was bought by a college in Colorado for their permanent collection.

Emergence III --This piece was in Fiber Celebrated 2011 at the Intermountain Weaver's Conference in Durango, CO in July 2011 and is now hanging at Weaving Southwest in Taos waiting for someone to take it home.

Emergence IV --This piece is at Weaving Southwest also.

This piece started coalescing in my mind when I was at Chaco Canyon the day James Koehler died. You can see what I wrote about that time HERE.
The feeling of expanding horizon in the desert southwest is important to me. Chaco Canyon is a place where the sky is huge and I am but a small observer of the shifting universe.
The questions about ancient people and the artifacts and unanswered stories they left behind are also endlessly intriguing to me. This piece is full of questions.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tapestry weaving and the nature of an art form

I picked up Joan Potter Loveless's book, Three Weavers again this morning (of all things, I had to buy another copy of it because mine is buried in a storage locker, but I needed this particular book and almost always pulls through). I had forgotten that she studied with Anni Albers at Black Mountain College (and took color classes with Josef Albers).  Perhaps this book should have been on the Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus reading list.

Here is a quote from page 17 that got me thinking of other aspects of tapestry weaving and more questions about why contemporary tapestry is most often not considered an art form by the larger art world (though historical and traditional tapestry often are--why is this?).

Even though, in one sense, the "evolution" of handweaving can be seen as a progression toward more ease, more efficiency, with the development of equipment and tools that accomplish these things, this is not a true picture of what weaving is all about. Weaving in the present is also, and most importantly, all of the minute, separate, weaving occurrences that have gone on in the past, all of the particular, individual, bits and pieces that have been woven in the the past by people sitting at looms or simply twining fibers into some form.  The satisfaction that we derive from being involved in a piece of weaving is exactly the same satisfaction that weavers always have derived from their work. Our work is no better; often it is not nearly as good. Weaving is not involved with the concept of progress; it is much more concerned with holding still the moment, with savoring and with marking it, with this still very simple participation with the fibers that we find around us.

Is this a common perspective among tapestry weavers? (and keep in mind that this book was published in 1992). I feel that meditative aspect of weaving almost every time I sit at the loom and I believe other weavers do also. Is there a fundamental rift between the glittery, monied art world and the slower universe of the tapestry weaver that we just can't overcome? Probably this is just one very small part of the problem of tapestry's place in the larger art world. After all, I imagine all artists have to find that meditative place when they are creating and thus experience this glaring difference of realities when faced with marketing and showing their work. But are tapestry weavers particularly inhibited by the slow plodding nature of our work when it comes to marketing and professional issues?

(photos Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, November 12, 2011)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A traveling tapestry studio

I am in a bit of flux.
A state of flux (which reminds me of Back to the Future I'm afraid... which tells you about when I was a teenager) which is unlikely to resolve soon. So for the present moment and until at least January, I am living in Cortez, Colorado. We were hoping for Durango, but it turns out Cortez is okay. It is surrounded by mountains (Sleeping Ute, Mesa Verde, La Platas) and isn't all that different from the small NM towns I'm used to--except there seems to be a lot more white folks here... that kind of throws me off a little some days. I'm working here as a traveling occupational therapist (which just means that the job is temporary and someone else finds me housing).

So my studio has to be a little bit more portable. This is my Macomber workshop loom which found a place in my car (and many things had to be rejected so the looms could fit in--my car is small! But who needs extra shoes anyway?). This loom, or so she says, was my grandmother's first loom. She is a little creaky now and I'm not at all pleased with the lack of very tight tension (okay, it is pretty darn good for a little folding loom, but it isn't the Harrisville!) and the tiny beater, but overall she weaves a straight fell and creates a nice tapestry cloth. What can you expect from a loom that is at least 50 years old? In fact, Grandma insists that this was Mrs. Macomber's own loom which she sold my grandmother upon request.  I never quite bought that story, but have no way to verify it, so perhaps Grandma is correct. My grandmother gave it to me years ago with 4 harnesses in the 8 harness castle.  The last time I worked as a traveling OT (2003-4), I added 4 more harnesses to it, so now it has 8. I just called up the Macombers (they don't have a website, don't even look), gave them the serial number of the loom conveniently etched on a metal plate attached to the loom, and they undoubtedly sifted through some dust-covered index card records, found the needed parts (which they still make--can you believe it?) and shipped me off 4 more harnesses and the necessary treadles. Amazing.  What will happen when those guys bite it? Macomber lovers everywhere will cry long and hard, that's what.

Nothing can replace my Harrisville rug loom.  But for now I am weaving on the little looms.  I've just put the warp on the Macomber for a commission in the Emergence series, and my trusty Mirrix is waiting in the wings in case I get desperate for something somewhat less wonky. Cassy was trying to help me warp, but I ended up with a big threading error, so perhaps she wasn't as helpful as she could have been... you know, if she had gone out for pizza for us instead or something.

Drawing the cartoon on mylar for the next piece on the coffee table in the little rental house. Turns out coffee tables of this shape are great for a 16 X 48 inch piece.

That is the whole studio at the moment... guess I'm lucky to have some smaller looms to cart around... and a job too.

And here is the studio I left behind, empty (well, except for the yellow lab--but I didn't leave her there).

Being a traveling weaver isn't all bad... Being in the heart of historical, ancestral puebloan country, a few days while the weather is nice here and there isn't something I can complain about!  This is Hovenweep National Monument.

And just because I mentioned it earlier, this is the Cortez cow.
(I'm hoping for some better sights than the cow this weekend.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The question of validation revisited...

Last week I posted the text from a small article I wrote for the latest edition of the American Tapestry Alliance's newsletter, Tapestry Topics. You can read that HERE.

I am interested in furthering discussion in the tapestry artist community about professionalism and how we can increase our presence in the art world as artists. (And though I mention the art vs. craft debate in the article, in the many months since I wrote it, I have come to strongly suspect that that particular discussion is mostly just a waste of time and we should be talking about why tapestry and fiber art in general is not frequently recognized as an art form in the art world today.) So perhaps the real problem for me is not so much that I don't have a degree in art, but that my chosen artistic field is not one that is regularly recognized AS art. We as tapestry artists are good at recognizing each other and showing tapestry work, but how many  shows or galleries do you go to where you see tapestry showcased along with other mediums?

I believe there are many people involved in ATA who are interested in these questions and would love to see tapestry perceived by the art public as an art form. There are a few people who have worked lately on getting the ATA forums going again and perhaps that can be one means of communication among tapestry artists.

So if you are a fiber artist, what is your experience in the art world? And if it hasn't been a positive experience, what can be done to change it?

And if these questions are intriguing to you, consider a book I just finished reading called The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: the Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson. The book starts with the example of a Damien Hirst piece titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living which, according to Thompson, is a contemporary work of art consisting of a shark caught in 1991 in Australia, prepared and mounted in England by technicians under Hirst's direction, presented in a giant glass vitrine which weighed two tons (not easy to get home).  The selling price was twelve million dollars. From there the book explores the world of art auction houses (primarily Christies and Sothebys), dealers, and art fairs. This is a world in which tapestry plays very little part.  The question is, why?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A question of validation

This is the article I wrote for the American Tapestry Alliance's Fall 2011 Tapestry Topics which came out last week.  The newsletter is currently for members only, a practice which I fear does not further the knowledge of tapestry in the wider world, so I am making what I wrote available here.  If you are a member of ATA, make sure you read the whole issue.  If you are not a member but are interested in the subject of professionalism as it is related to fiber art, perhaps asking ATA for access to the newsletter will help us make it more widely available.

A question of validation
Rebecca Mezoff

            What makes you an artist?  Discussion of professionalism and what constitutes art vs. craft is something that I think is rare in the field of tapestry and in some places is even discouraged.  I believe this kind of dialogue is important among makers of tapestry if tapestry is going to be regarded as an art form in its own right. The field of art is a large monster that often feels intimidating to me and this leads me to questions of my own worth as an artist and musings about my own cobbled-together art education.
            I am a tapestry artist who is attempting to make a significant portion of my income through art, but I am lacking a BFA, an MFA, or another pile of letters relating directly to making tapestry.  When I went to college, I was interested in art, but the messages I received growing up and from the world in general were that art wasn’t a stable or acceptable professional career choice, so something else would have to do.  I could make art as a hobby.  Years later and somewhat disenchanted with the medical career I found myself in, I started weaving tapestry.  I love it.  I should do this.  But I don’t have an art degree.  I have a masters degree in a medical profession (occupational therapy) which used to be craft-based, but now is solidly medical.  In this country (USA) anyway, many of the messages we receive growing up indicate that to be a professional anything and to be “successful” you have to have a degree.  So not having a BFA or an MFA psychologically hinders me at times when I am thinking about “being an artist”.  When I finish a new tapestry or sell a couple in the gallery, I don’t feel that an art degree is needed.  When I am in the midst of a dry spell and inspiration is far away, I am working too much as an OT, and nothing is selling, then I question myself and look for validation… and inevitably start considering art school. Perhaps this is also a longing, as I am getting closer to the end of my 30s, for more knowledge and a new means of inspiration.

Emergence II by Rebecca Mezoff

            In order to practice as an occupational therapist I am required to have at least a masters degree, pass various national and state exams, complete large amounts of continuing education every year, and maintain several licenses.  In order to call myself an artist, I only have to make art.  Is this true? Certainly not everyone who has an MFA is really an artist.  Maybe it really does come down to the “What is art?” question and a real inability to answer that in any concise way.  Perhaps that is as it should be.  Art is what it needs to be for each of us.  Some of us are in the “I just want to make pretty things” camp and some of us are in the “I want to change the world” camp (and sometimes those two camps are one and the same—and is that the difference between craft and art?).

Emergence III by Rebecca Mezoff

Emergence IV by Rebecca Mezoff
            I believe that as tapestry artists there are intellectually significant questions that need to be asked and I don’t see many people asking them.  How can we start these dialogues?  I think our need for validation is part of the human condition.  In general we all need support and positive regard.  However I do find that the issue of professionalism in regard to tapestry art specifically is something fiber artists don’t talk about much.  In the absence of these kinds of discussions, the need for validation is even stronger.
            In the end, validation has to come from inside myself.  I hope that if in my work I search for what is essential and valuable for me, the work will reflect some inner truth which will hold value.  The act of making that thing that is valuable for me, I hope, is the only validation I really need.  If this is not true first, then art school will not make any difference at all.