My installation ‘Mater Matrix Mother and Medium’ has been dormant for about a year, but is about to return in yet another form, this time winding its way 65 feet above the ground through the massive and dramatic stone canyon of columns of the Gothic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in NYC, as part of their exhibition and symposium “The Value of Water: Sustaining a Green Planet”, from September 2011 – March 2012.
This might seem a bit of a departure from an installation primarily about engaging in an intimate way with small parcels of the natural landscape. I usually spend about 100 hours with my husband, artist Paul Margolis, painstakingly and patiently discovering the negative space in and among trees, our faces pressed to bark and knuckles scraping as we reshape, mend and add to the every-changing fiber river, now sometimes reaching 300 feet long.
I’ve taken it to Atlanta and to several Northwest locations with 4Culture SITE SPECIFIC program, each time feeling like it’s a new installation and that we have really gotten to know a few trees very well. This time the installation will be hung by a team of riggers using bucket lifts (that go who knows how high…the Cathedral is 200 feet high!), and will meander among carved stone columns, some as big as 40 feet in diameter. The painstaking process this time took place in my studio, pouring over little pieces of paper that are meant to somehow translate and make me understand two football fields of space. I unwrapped the crochet panels inside invisible columns taped out on my floor, crocheting about 350 feet of seams together, widening the entire installation so it can have a presence in the massive space. Have I said massive enough? It is massive, the largest cathedral in the United States.
Yet, it doesn’t feel incongruous with the notion of engaging with something grown rather than built. Incongruity has been a natural state of this installation from the beginning anyhow, with putting fiber outside in the environment, while fiber is most often seen as something fragile to be treated with white gloves out of the sunlight. Especially with my newest project ‘Solstenen’ and my fixation on the body turning to living stone — becoming part of the larger cycle of geologic time — having this work supported by massive bits of the earth, carved by skilled hands, is quite nice. Cathedrals and stone churches have always seemed to me to blend architecture and landscape anyhow because of the very qualities of water the stone retains, the visceral sense of coming out of the earth, the cool brisk sense of wicking water from the air and ground.
I love what The Reverend Canon Tom Miller has to say about the Cathedral in his essay for Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save our Most Critical Resource.
The simple answer is that there’s water, water everywhere, as the imagination might fashion it, since none of the stone, wood or glass would exist without the presence and power of water over geological time. As biblical tradition has it, human beings bear the image of their Creator. Perhaps in like manner, all the materials in the Cathedral bear the mark of water, that first element of Creation from which all things were made.
He also make reference to the many wells, springs and underground streams that dot the land the Cathedral is built upon, even pointing out the use of one spring for years as the source of water for the Baptismal Font. This speaks so directly to why I began this installation in the beginning. Ancient holy wells have always been centers of community, and then became centers of reverence. The way that water works, part of one large cycle, there really isn’t a division between something sacred and something not. Inspired by over and over and over references of the mythology of the sacred quality of water in nearly every culture, I question where it has gone in ours, with water treated as a commodity, valued for its ability to make money, and yet our careless and privileged sense to waste it and spoil it. MMMM was inspired mostly by the Clooty Well tradition of Celtic regions – bits of cloth are tied to trees around sacred wells after dipping them in the water, to bind intention into action, to heal. Can we heal our disjointed relationship to the water we are born from? When I engage with making this work, and asking people to join me, I feel it is a commitment to try.
The intimacy with site that has usually been so important to me as a maker of this site-responsive installation was replaced by an intimacy with the history of the piece as I slowly went over every section of it, with remembering individual people who helped make this installation by once more working on their bits that began as far back as March 2009.
I have a very good memory for the crocheting, who made what, what fabrics things are made of. Coming across the shredded bits of a Brookes Brothers shirt someone gave me who has now become a dear friend was really special. Without the trees there as I made the piece this time, I seemed to go back over all the time I spent engaging with the people who worked on this and the transformative quality that period of time has had for me. The beginning process of making MMMM really put me in the flux of my city, going to places and events and sites that where outside of my daily patterns.
I had the opportunity to talk to a huge range of people, many not really interested in art at all just going about their daily lives. Sometimes awkward, sometimes so wonderfully surprising, being pulled out of my studio private space and talking about ideas with anyone has had a lasting effect on my practice as an artist. I feel buoyed by all those who stepped towards the ideas I was trying to share, many trying something new, sitting and talking awhile with perfect strangers about whatever seemed to come up.
I’m excited to once more share all of these thousands of thousands of moments recorded in knotted fiber, and add to them. I don’t know where yet….but a Community Crochet event will pop up in NY while I’m there, the 13th – 26th….stay tuned, or stay connected on my mailing list or twitter or Facebook.
Meanwhile, in Seattle on Sept. 10th from 2-6pm, I’ll be participating in the giant community art event NEPO 5K, once more asking Seattlites to support this project by literally asking them to help me make the giant support ropes that will hold MMMM up in the Cathedral. With 40 foot diameter columns I’ll need a heck more rope than I have ever had to make before. I’ll be in the Korean Pagoda along the route once it gets to Beacon Hill on the I-90 bike trail….just follow everyone else. Stop in the pagoda, relax a bit and crochet before continuing on your way. I’ll have some water for you.
Please consider supporting the traveling of this installation through a small donation on Kickstarter: “MMMM community crochet installation heads to NYC”