It’s week ten in the class and always the same. This first year course for art majors to explore themes in contemporary art has reached the unit on pluralism…specifically, feminism…and the students will perplex me once again. When asked who believes that a person should be allowed rights and freedoms (including those of expression) regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality–all hands raise proudly to affirm years of elementary and secondary school lessons in diversity. When I follow-up to poll who identifies as a feminist, all but 5 hands in this room of 30 (predominantly female) students will furtively vanish; and when pressed to explain, all eye contact will cease. Finally, one brave student will speak up, and say that she doesn’t want to be called a feminist because they all hate men and are angry all the time. Besides, she adds, everything is equal now. The others nod in agreement.
Albeit frustrating, this energizes my artmaking.
Beginning this research as a young, third-wave feminist, I struggled to understand the mixed messages of how to craft aspects of my own identity. While no dominant, patriarchal voice informed those choices, many women of my generation had still managed to internalize those familiar meta-messages. Now, I also see my work acting as a sort of primer to educate a younger, more dubious audience, to coax them to see things more critically and examine their choices without feeling those external pressures to conform to ill-fitting or outdated mores.
My research reclaims positive feminist messages by using the dearth of negative ones in order to realign or destroy them from within. Interjecting humor into this critique not only exploits the absurdity of both the “norms” and radical agendas, but also creates a more hospitable situation to introduce contrary arguments when considered with a bit of laughter. I deliberately use source materials from bygone eras in the construction of my imagery—from vintage girdles, to alphabets, to flash cards used to educate children—nostalgia makes it more possible to see the extremes of the situations, but also renders the past as complicated as the present, much to the chagrin of those who miss “the good ole days.”
After more than 15 years of creating fiber-based artworks exclusively by hand, I began a radically different direction in my work in 2007 with Husqvarna Designer SE machine and software system–a free-motion sewing machine capable of “stitching-out” almost photo-realistic interpretations in thread combined with a software system that could generate embroideries from user-generated digital files. Since that shift, the field of fiber-based and stitched works that I previously inhabited with only a handful of other artists has been expanding exponentially, as both established and younger artists began mixing traditional processes with those of the textile arts and new technologies. The resulting artworks are no longer confined to niche galleries or institutions, garnering positive acclaim and collectability in mainstream Art venues.