Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sea Monsters: Misplaced and Irrational Fears

Hello all,
it's been a while. During my radio silence I've been chugging away at my internship at the Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, looking for new employment, and teaching myself how to cook. I'm constantly inspired by this website:

In other news, I'm finally ready to embark on my next series. Sometimes I get frustrated at how long it takes for me to start projects, and sometimes I artificially push myself, which only results in a false start. When I finally realize that I should just wait until I'm ready, I remember the sage advice of Mark Twain about "letting the well fill". That's how he'd describe the time between his books, as allowing his well to fill once more. And of course, that takes time.

Curiously enough, my impatience to start the next round of projects lays at odds with the very processes I employ for my projects. I seem to find the most tedious and time-consuming methods for my works and this round will be no different. Sigh...

So, one day I went to the library to look up books on embroidery and stumbled upon one that talks about "hardanger" or "Norwegian Drawn Work" or open embroidery. It's like a weird hybrid between cross stitch and embroidery, with wholly unique results. It's history isn't all that well documented but it was popular during the Renaissance. I've not really seen much recent hardanger work, but the books I found on it relegate it mostly to the "housewife crafty embellishment" realm of fancy napkins and tablecloths. This isn't a bad thing, just amusing to me.

After many, many hours of work over the past few days, I'm only this far.
My hands protest these tiny repetitive stitches.

Which leads me to a recent thought I've been kicking around regarding my own art methods. I never for a moment growing up thought that the artist I would become would be one who swims mostly in "women's work" waters, but here I am. I fancied myself a budding painter or sculptor or printmaker or something less "crafty" in nature. Though I shouldn't be surprised. My home is decorated with many of the crewel work pieces my Nana made throughout her life, ones I remember staring at as a little girl visiting my Pop-pop after my Nana had passed. Nana did a lot of crewel work, a bedspread being her largest and crowning achievement. Pop-pop used to refer to it as her "6¢ per inch" work because of the many hours it took to make and how if the piece was to be sold for a reasonable amount, Nana would have to have paid herself something abysmally small.

Some of Nana's crewel work, including my birth announcement! (center photo, lower left corner).

Aside from Nana's crewel work pieces, my own mother is really into another sort of "women's work" - quilting. And the other side of my art-making, aside from the stitching and embroidery I do, is the dyeing and production of my own fabrics. My mother is a quilter not because she loves the stitching, but rather her adoration of fabrics: their designs and colors and textures has lead her down this path. She compulsively purchases fabrics, especially recently the William Morris reproductions, which she's not done anything with. She'll just take her fat quarters out of storage and fan the William Morris fabrics across a bed and stare at them, delighting in the designs and patterns. And honestly, can you blame her?

And so it seems that my Nana and my mother (Nana is her mother) are key influences in what I love to do nowadays. It's funny too, because I wouldn't have counted either of them among those that influenced my art-making up until very recently. But then again, you never know where life will lead you.

Leading lastly to the project at hand. I'm teaching myself hardanger embroidery to complete a series of "portraits" of "sea monsters". Now there are sea creatures out there that look bizarre and scary but aren't particularly dangerous. Then there are the REAL dangerous creatures out there that can KILL you, but they don't look like much, like, uh....cone shells. No teeth or spines or other sharp parts, no creepy milky eyes and they don't move fast (or much at all it seems), but the venom collected from just one of these things could kill up to 700 people. Insane!

So my portraits will have the hardanger used as a Victorian-inspired ornamental frame. This frame will be layered on top of a second hand-dyed fabric of mine, which will peek out of the many lacy holes and such I put into my hardanger fabric. The 2nd layer will have an embroidered portrait of sea creatures, though I'm grappling with which side of the "danger divide" I'll play with. See, in my research, I found it interesting what we place our fears in. Ask anyone what's the scariest creature in the ocean and they might say something like "Shark!" or "Giant Squid!", whereas they may not even know what a box jelly is (though apparently Will Smith kills himself in that movie "7 Pounds" with a box jelly, so more people have an awareness of these animals now thanks to that unfortunate film). Anyway, box jellies kill more people per year than sharks, stonefish (another rather dangerous sea creature) and crocodiles combined. They are small and delicate creatures and need the brute force of their poison to instantly kill their prey. A to-the-death struggle would kill theses jellies otherwise. So in this, what do you fear more? The shark or the jelly?

I'm misunderstood.

I will kill you.

This leads me to mediate on misplaced and irrational fears. It's irrational to fear a shark unless you're a surfer or diver specifically going into known shark territories. Same with the jellies. But we get into cars everyday, and car accidents kill more people per year than sharks and box jellies combined, many fold. One can apply this to anything from what you eat (poor diet = diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc and yet, tons of us still reach for McDonald's) to current events, political leaders, etc. We lay our fears into certain things, but rarely do we take a step back and assess WHY we fear these things. Are they worth our fear? And perhaps reevaluating where our fears reside and understanding the WHY and HOW we fear might help us realize we're fearing the wrong (or right) things? For while we may fear the shark (a wholly misunderstood animal in my opinion), our expenditure might allow something really worth our fear to go unnoticed for longer than we should allow (say, lead paint on kid toys or the rising number of e. coli outbreaks in our supposedly safe food). Misplaced fears lead to fighting the wrong fights and letting the real dangers take hold.

And so I'm making these portraits that I definitely delight in and enjoy, but hold for me an important intellectual exercise applicable to any issue or situation: is my reaction (or yours or anyone's) of fear really well placed? Or is my misplaced fear a wonderful opportunity for a real danger to take advantage of?

Fear or folly? Mislaid fear indeed. Nay-sayers should be thankful they can even do this sort of stuff because ACTUAL ruling under Hitler and Stalin would have found folks shot in the street like dogs for less than this depiction.
Oh the folly of misplaced fears....

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