Remember late December 2019? Finishing holiday celebrations of our given traditions, settling the year’s accounts, looking forward to 2020. The Damocles’ Sword that hung over us was Climate Change — not Pandemic.
It was climate change that was on my mind as some tapestry friends came the end of their annual tapestry diaries and started planning new ones. Tommye Scanlin* is the master of this durational art form. The idea is to weave something of a diary entry every day. Some people use it as a daily art discipline or as a visual journal entry. I chose a third path: the year documented as art.
Actually, the idea of the daily tapestry journal didn’t appeal to me but I was starting to feel a little peer pressure to get started as New Year’s Eve neared. Artists are a pushy bunch.
Here in St. Louis, our winters are warming. Our summers are hotter and more humid. Our rivers flood more often. Our storms are stronger. A freak, unexpected derecho storm wiped out — and I mean FLATTENED — an art fair where I was exhibiting in early September 2018. The cost of the climate crisis was on my mind.
Science is the flip side of art.** Many of us artists approach our work from the left side of the brain also. The idea was observe the natural world, chart the daily high and low temperature, and weave those facts into art.
Weave it how? Some use squares, which can leave dramatic slits between the days. Some use trapezoids to hold the piece together. As with all art, the technique and craft will determine the success of the piece.
Then the answer arrived: wedge weave!
Wedge weave is a tapestry technique developed by Diné weavers (Navajo) and practiced from roughly 1870-90. Most woven fabrics follow a grid that connects warp (vertical threads) and weft (horizontal threads) at right angles. The Diné chose 45 degree angles, weaving on the diagonal. Kevin Aspaas’s work is a great example. It fell out of favor because white rug purchasers, upon whom the weavers depended for sales, didn’t like the scalloped edges. Gratefully, the style is making a resurgence.
Wedge weave is an art form that is connected to the earth, and honors a nation and culture without taking their designs. It fits the concept.
The work started simply enough. One week recorded per section of wedges. The January temperatures were unseasonably warm, then dipped a bit. Science recorded in art. That appealed to me.
Then we came to March. Pandemic. Lockdown. Illness. Friends in New York dying. I attended three virtual funerals in as many weeks.
Most of my work focuses on interpretation of symbols. Everything means something. That something adds to the depth and understanding to the art. Art is communication, after all. I only consider my art successful if it stirs an emotion, triggers a memory, evokes a response. The immensity of COVID-19 demanded a voice in this work that documented a year. Two passes of black wool, woven horizontally, separated the weeks and marked the pandemic. COVID-19 had a place in the work.
What about those braided edges? Do they have a meaning? Of course. The braids represent the binding of the people to each other just as the days bind together into weeks and months.
The discipline of the daily practice that will take a year can be wearing. Facing exhibit deadlines on other projects, the temperature diary fell behind. April-June was finished on September 2. I thought I was done. I don’t need to finish the year. Then I took it off the loom.
Work on the loom or the canvas on in the camera is work. It’s the task at hand. The work is the craft, the doing, the intention. As I am often heard to say, “artwork is WORK! It’s a WORK of art, not a play of art. Work!”
Off the loom the work takes on a completely different dimension, an importance that didn’t appear until the warp ends are braided and the ends finished. The work becomes art — or not. More than an exercise, the temperature diary marks an extraordinary year. It is a documentation of what we are living through. It deserves a conclusion.
I’m two months behind but I will catch up. I had another plan for that loom, but it will be warped up again for a testament to a summer in pandemic. July-September will be followed by October-December.
I long to remove those black lines.
To be continued…
*Please visit Tommye McClure Scanlin’s daily tapestry journals here, and spend time with all her extraordinary work.
**Read my blog post Art, Your Cousin is Science here.