Tuesday, June 22, 2010

UGA Visiting Artist Collaborative Project: Sock Project with Liz Collins

On Monday March 23, 2009 visiting artist Liz Collins arrived at the University of Georgia in Athens to begin a three day collaborative project with students from my Fabric Manipulation class. The project engaged all students in the research, design, material manipulation, construction and presentation of a piece made from donated and collected socks. The final piece was presented in the Main Lobby of the Lamar Dodd School of Art new building on March 25, 2009 and than reinstalled outside the Fabric Design studios in the South Lobby in 2010.

Liz Collins writes,“In the interest of addressing issues of excess and transforming waste, the sock project aims to take used objects destined for the landfill and make them into beautiful, compelling objects of art. We will start with old, used
(but clean, please). After the initial collective and individual brainstorming, everyone will set to work making the pieces, and plans will be made along the way about how to show and present this work. Stitching, stuffing, sorting, knitting, crocheting, sculpting, fitting, transforming....we will do it all!”

Research Questions for Michael Radyk's Fabric Manipulation classs.
-Look at the Textile metaphor implied by the use of an everyday material.
-What techniques can be used to manipulate the materials?
-What will the piece become?
-How does time, come into play in this project and the design and manufacturing of products and objects?
-How will the quantity of material alter the outcome?

ESSAY: Thinking Big: Deconstructing/Constructing the Textile Wall, Michael Radyk

When I think about the great textile art of the 70’s and 80’s, I think of the large, expansive, textured, emblematic pieces. Those massive works of textile art always seem to devour all the bad work and clich├ęs associated with some fiber art from the same period. The work of Magdalena Abakanowicz and her research into the “countless” and the timelessness of her work and the walls and spaces she created remain shockingly alive and organic in their vastness. She says: "I feel overwhelmed by quantity where counting no longer makes sense.” Abakanowicz, in those early pieces, created many metaphors through the liberation of meaning, material, scale and quantity. Abakanowicz and many of her Eastern European artist colleagues repurposed and reused lowly, earthy ropes and the remains of war and agriculture—materials waiting for an artist to reinvent them.

Early in the semester, the Fabric Manipulation class viewed Christo’s Valley Curtain, a film by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Ellen Hovde. I have always been amazed by the film’s drama and portrayal of community, craft, skill and Christos’ calculated execution of the project. Our project would call upon our student community to come together to collect the materials, design, construct, craft and manufacture a textile wall. Within the contexts of material repurposing, scale, space, community, manufacturing, the project would bring together the visiting artist Liz Collins and the Fabric Design students of Lamar Dodd School of Art to engage in a joint project that could fill the open, light-filled main lobby of the new art building, a large space waiting for students to reinvent it. Liz Collins was asked to purpose a material that could supply and meet all of our needs regarding reuse and availability. Her suggestion of socks provided an everyday material the students could easily collect and ultimately repurpose into a piece with energy, movement and a life beyond the three day project.

I began by asking five research questions relating to the context and project. What is the textile metaphor implied by the use of an everyday material? What techniques can be used to manipulate the materials? What will the piece become? How does time come into play in this project, and in the design and manufacturing of products and objects? How will the quantity of materials alter the outcome? The questions were influenced by contemporary textile practices, as well as, early discussions between Fabric Design Area Chair Clay McLauren and myself on what the outcome of the “Sock Project” might be. Along with the questions students were asked to draw, sketch and research. Those questions and early ideas sparked many discussions among the students, both expressing concern and excitement.

Recently, in my own research I have been obsessed with the work and writings of architect Kengo Kuma, especially the image of the main room in The Ginzan Onsen Fujiya Project, a 100-year-old hot spring hotel in Japan’s snow country. In the building the veil-like walls are constructed of remarkable materials, over a million pieces of split bamboo. The bamboo stem is split by a craftsperson expanding both the material and the tactile qualities of the wall. This splitting or “particlizing” is used in and the construction of our “Sock Wall”. Kumo writes in his essay, The Relativity of Materials, “Without particlizing materials, we cannot appreciate them as materials, nor feel their qualities.” The change of material expression by cutting expands the material quantity or mass, as well as the expressiveness and charm. As I witnessed the students turning a very modest bundle of the collected materials/socks into countless scrapes and pieces by cutting them apart, I knew this material manipulation or “particilizing” would be the key to the outcome and the starting point for the manufacturing of the piece. While the surface dimension was increased, the expressiveness of the material was maintained. Rescaling, re-contextualizing and responding to the materials led directly into the manufacturing.

With an atmosphere of industry and the sewing machines churning furiously, the students constructed the wall, transforming the bits and pieces of those rescued socks, those lonely socks with lost mates, those silly children’s socks they outgrew, those socks that never fit quite right, those socks with holes, those socks pulled and stretched out of shape, those socks with too many colors, those socks that kept us warm, those socks that were part of our everyday experience—all those socks, transformed into art. MR