Now an on-going project, Mater Matrix Mother and Medium began in 2009, originally commissioned by the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs using the Seattle Public Utilities (our water utility) 1% for Art Funds, as a way to encourage stewardship, to celebrate and interpret the splendor of Seattle’s urban creeks and watersheds.
“This project began with the communal creation of a 200+ foot crocheted ‘fiber river’ installation, created in part through a series of over 30 community crochet events held over three months all over Seattle during the spring of 2009. I taught anyone willing to learn how to crochet, with some contributing a few minutes of chain stitch and others sticking with me for a few hours and returning to multiple events around the city.
I then took the fiber “pools” into the forest of Camp Long, an urban park in Seattle, and spent the next six weeks in-residence on a ladder crocheting and integrating the river into the trees, a brilliant blue flow moving through the forest from ground level up to heights of 25 feet.
This artwork is a unique blend of community engagement and personal inquiry, of site-embedded installation and performance. It embodies the ancient human practice of acknowledging our own physicality rooted in the cycles of water and how this forms the very foundation of human community. Water, both mundane and miraculous, mirrors the everyday meeting of strangers and the tiny moments that begin to bond us together.
The River is made up of thousands upon thousands of tiny moments and movements of individual citizens, integrated and interwoven into the natural environment. Inspired by the Clooty Well tradition of Celtic regions – bits of cloth tied to trees around sacred wells bind intention into action — MMMM is an exploration of how we ourselves are both literal and metaphoric manifestations of the living fundamental quality of water. Our experience of water is both one of intimacy and also of civic structure.”
The 2009 Performance
On July 16, 2009, the culmination of the “Mater Matrix Mother and Medium ” project was a one-time performance produced in collaboration between myself, dancer Zoe Scofield and composer Morgan Henderson, at Camp Long, an urban park in Seattle,Wa. It was a hushed reflection on the subtle dynamics of a forest embedded in the urban environment, as organic as it is artificial. All three artists — myself, Zoe and Morgan — responded in our own way to the quirky overgrown tranquility of Camp Long’s little pond. Our intent was to invite the audience to sit for a short time in quiet observation of the rhythms of this unusual site, heightening their focus through sound, movement, breath and site-responsive installation. A companion film was created by Ian Lucero.
‘MMMM’ becomes on-going…
During the installation, many people came to the park, wanting to continue to crochet even beyond the completion of the installation; and when I was invited to participate in the “Still Water” exhibition at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta in late 2009, I realized that there did not have to be an arbitrary end to continuing the process of making this installation with any community that wanted to engage with a myriad of topics about water. The issues at stake about water and community where by no means Seattle-specific, but indeed water issues impact every person on the planet. The installation was carefully cut down from the trees in 20-foot sections, packed and taken to the trees in Atlanta.
And like water, the crocheted water takes the shape of the vessel that holds it. The installation has now been re-created 5 times, each time becoming a very different shape and engaging in urban to rural environments. To re-create the installation each time, it require a 100 hours of patient shaping from myself and artist Paul Margolis, as we piece back together cuts and crochet together tears or fibers that have become fragile from the weather or the sun, creating brighter blue veins running next to beautifully sun-worn pale blues by adding new materials and thousands of new stitches. Each time I install the installation community participation is key; I am hosted by new communities and gather people together around piles of recycled yarns and fabrics. And those small round fiber ‘pools’, often made from left-over scraps from when the installation is previously cut down, are also integrated back into the river.
In 2010, with funding from the 4Culture SITE Specific program, “Mater Matrix Mother and Medium” traveled to sites around the Northwest, including Herbert Bayer’s landmark Earthworks, adding more hands and stitches to the flow.
In 2011, with the invitation to install MMMM in the massive and awe-inspiring Gothic stone architecture of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine — to engage with massive columns of stone as a natural site — I am reminded of my earliest desire for the installation, to investigate the notions of the sacredness of water that every culture throughout history has held, and how we have lost sight of that sense of water by only relating to it as a commodity, to the detriment of the planet and those who cannot afford it when it is privatized. The need and right to clean water is something we all share.
MMMM was invited to remount at the Seattle Center to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the 1962 Worlds Fair with the Next Fifty program. The Office Of Arts and Cultural Affairs and Seattle Public Utilities 1% for Art commissioned a new and larger performance that took place May 2012 at the Dupen Fountain in collaboration with Seattle-based multi-media artists; dancer/choreographer Jessica Jobaris, harp poet Monica Schley, vocalist/performance artist Saskia Delores and filmmaker Rodrigo Valenzuela. This new site-specific performance titled “Saltus Chori Aevum” also generated footage for a companion film by Valenzuela.
The Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue Wa. invited MMMM to span several city blocks as a celebration of the 67th anniversary of the BAM ARTSfair. The largest iteration of the Mater Matrix Mother and Medium to date, people from around the country contributed pieces to expand the installation to span 600 feet.
MMMM is on display at The Hudson River Museum from June 7-September 14, 2014 as one element of my exhibition “The Ecstatic Moment” , cascading down from ceiling to floor of the 24 foot atrium of the museum, examining the full weight of 5 years of community crocheting, as well as referencing the museum’s proximity to the grand Hudson River.
What I had to say in 2009 about the original ‘Process’
“One of my strongest desires for this project is to bring its making out into the community, rather than solely behind studio doors. For the past several years creating my large installations has involved, in some part, asking for volunteer help from friends and acquaintances in my studio. The flow of conversation that always happens while people are working with their hands has always intrigued me; I’d like to open up that conversation on a larger scale with the people in all our communities in Seattle. This project is about opening up the process of creating of an artwork to Seattle citizens, rather than an object just showing up in a park one day. Throughout the spring and early summer, you can watch me and join in the building of a river of recycled fabrics and yarn. Small tiny gestures of the hands will transform mundane materials like old clothes into something fantastic, a glowing blue river literally woven into the trees. Then we can watch as Zoe Scofield, an ordinary woman of flesh and blood, transforms herself into something both delicate and ferocious.”