Using soft materials and found objects, I create tactile objects and installations about human relationship. I redefine needle art techniques and transform the everyday into works of contemporary relevance. There is a presence of the maker in the shape of thousands of stitches, hand-wrought forms and, as in my collaborations, the orchestrated actions of many. Influenced by my travels, I draw from historical and cultural experiences around me that extend from my neighborhood to time spent in the Far East. Impressions from a residency in Shenzhen China, where citizens are experiencing radical social changes, resulted in works about the universal and confusing contradictions of identity and place. A fellowship in Thailand found me sharing a mudhouse with scorpions, centipedes, and more. These strange bedfellows feared me as much as I did them, yet over time a mutual respect developed as we each accepted the other – with the realization that neither my multiple-legged roommates nor myself are alone but part of a larger whole.
The exhibit Unidentifed Woman engages with the collections at Historic Northampton and the forces that have shaped women’s identities since the 18th century, by fusing personal experiences and ideologies into sculptures that contribute to the progress of both art and feminism. For this project, I strove to create headwear that infers an inner vitality and self awareness on the wearer – thereby redressing fashion’s oppression.
Headwear has long played a role in indicating the class, status and occupation of the wearer – enforcing conformity and erasing individuality. From the 18th century poke bonnet which restricted women’s field of vision, to today’s hijab, women in particular have been subjugated to fashion dictates and social norms. These headwear sculptures offer a vehicle for a subversive coded language which addresses the play between women’s visibility and invisibility.
Struck by the poignant anonymity of the museum’s daguerreotypes, I scoured flea markets for similar images which I then altered with raw and idiosyncratic stitches that call attention to the Unidentified Woman whose name is long forgotten. This obsolete photographic process aligns with today’s social media; both are means that allow people to alter their public identity through the curation of carefully chosen images. In this way I stitch together past and present identity politics to provide an alternative chronology where expression replaces suppression and sewing equals activism.
It is a bittersweet pleasure to introduce this magnificent fifteenth issue of Posit, coming as it does in the wake of what feels like an avalanche of national and global upheaval — both natural and human-made, toxically entangled as those categories are. But also: coming out on the heels of such a great loss for anyone interested in contemporary poetry. I’m referring, of course, to the death of John Ashbery, one of the greatest and most beloved poets of the past half-century. Although his loss hits hard, I find consolation in detecting his influence on so much of the poetry I love — and publish.
This issue is a perfect case in point, notable as it is for the singularity and variety of the voices it assembles — an aesthetic capaciousness which owes no small thanks to Ashbery’s paradigm-shifting work, which demonstrated by contagious example the extent of what is possible. Which ranges, in this issue, from the sizzling imaginative fertility of Will Alexander’s monumental monologue to the analytic calm of Robert Okaji’s meditations; from the poignant crises of Louis Bourgeois’ beautifully drawn protagonists to the understated humor of David Lehman’s and Stephen Paul Miller’s riffs on Frank O’Hara’s famous Lana Turner poem; from John Beer’s tidal flow of verbal riches to Charles Borkhuis’ razor-sharp yet deadly serious wit; from Patty Seyburn’s evocative experimentalism to Aliesa Zoecklein’s equally evocative lyric odes to love and loss.
To quote Mr. Ashbery, all of the work in this issue offers “what we need now:” these “unlikely / Challenger[s] pounding on the gates of an amazed / Castle” (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”). So I hope you’ll honor his passing by reading, or re-reading, his work — and theirs:
the revolutionary heat and devastating light of this fragment from Will Alexander’s tome, The Ganges, the “supreme toil” of its “treasonous instruction” in the voice of an Untouchable, that “remnant outside a palace of hoaxes” banned “to exclusion voiced through tainted opinion,” with its grim echoes of the meanness and menace in our contemporary political landscape;
the rhythmic fluidity of John Beer’s “The Fictive Hour,” “split[ting] the feast of [its] intentions” in wave after melodic wave, enacting the sensitive pursuit of meaning embedded in the quiddity of the moment becoming “the mother of itself;”
Charles Borkhuis’ grave yet bemused invitations to puzzle over “the truth . . . which withdraws from the slightest observation,” deploying the insights of meta-and particle physics in his signature precise yet playful demotic idiom to “thread the eye through an ear / and . . . wing it outward on a word;”
the tragicomedy of Louis Bourgeois’ Salingeresque tale of the clash of integrity with pragmatism under the pressure of social reality and, especially, of time;
Lauren Camp’s evocative lyrics lifting off from the springboard of the personal to touch the universal, rising from the “rant in my inbox” which “is many / fresh-fallen failures /masquerading as failures” to the desert clouds over a party which “plump / then conjugate / all the pleasure for hours;”
Robert Farrell’s aphoristic, incantatory meditations delving, like “a vehicle into a vehicle,” into works by Anscombe, Aristotle, Zosimus, and Hala Mohammed to propose that “[a]ll / things hang together even lives that meet their natural / ends;”
the sensitivity of Cal Freeman’s meditations on literary and personal heritage in which “no one knows / what to measure or how” in light of “the terrible affront and tacit / threat [our] presence constitutes / for every seen and unseen creature;”
David Lehman’s tribute to Stephen Paul Miller’s variation on Frank O’Hara’s “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]” — each as wryly gentle in their counsel as the charming original — Miller’s version literally raising the stakes on O’Hara’s by virtue of the weight of what’s at stake (“oh Hillary Clinton you’re going to lose get up!”)— while Lehman’s version hovers with understated complexity between empathetic optimism and doubt of a candidate who might or might not share the social ease of the kind of gregarious narrator who “want[s] to meet you / whoever you are;”
The contemplative focus of Robert Okaji’s koan-like meditations on perception filtered through the metaphorical and philosophical implications of abstraction, in which “[t]he images consume no space but the effect is of distance;”
Patty Seyburn’s richly elliptical and compelling investigations into the vulnerability of the human body and the mythography of swans, entailing “something about anomaly” and “mimesis overload;”
Devon Wootten’s delicious excerpt from Gimme the Pretty, enlisting the reader to partner its probing of the nature and value of its own endeavor (yes, poetry, but not only), achieving any number of “truly epic volta[s]” as it delivers “what [we] came for— / realer done right,”
and Aliesa Zoecklein’s elegant explorations of the grief and hazard embedded in the paraphernalia of the ordinary: the sequin dress of a former lover, the sustenance of a grieving survivor, the “convincing curve” of a swimming pool beyond which “there’s a gate-latch moment when the stranger arrives.”
Thank you for honoring these artists with your time and attention.
Welcome to the visual art of Posit 15!
Jodi Colella uses traditional needlework skills to create artworks that are referential to the great traditions she is working within while also building a commentary on her travels throughout the world. Her work speaks to the evolving roles of women in Western and Non-Western cultures as well her experiences of the natural world.
Brandon Graving, a master printmaker, uses paper in interesting and innovative ways. She casts it, creating three-dimensional sculptures that seem to defy gravity. Her mastery of printmaking technique enables her to push the medium past its known limits until the results defy categorization.
There is a palpable visual rhythm and rhyme in the graphic work of Francis Pavy. His visual interpretations of the music of his native Louisiana dance and jump off the page. His ties to Southern American folklore and culture are deep, and he expresses them in a distinctly contemporary way.
The complex sculptures of Lina Puerta present a delicate and beautifully crafted view of the confluence of the natural and manmade worlds. Her great sensitivity to the found objects she often uses and her skills in combining them creates a universe that is simultaneously natural and artificial—as well as beautiful to look at.
Umar Rashid has created a new history of the American Empire. Through his brilliant and subversive series of faux-historical painting and writings he imagines a national history quite different from that taught in school. His pictorial style riffs on many historic sources and the result is something completely original. A self-taught artist, Rashid has combined his keen intellect with a sly sense of humor and political outrage.