We Feel Better Together
Senior Capstone Project
I had the pleasure of executing this project under the guidance of two professors who have radically improved my skill and perspective as an artist. They are both incredibly talented interdisciplinary artists with knowledge and passion abound, and they were a wealth of assistance during the fabrication and decision-making in this project. They are also both a delight to talk to.
My goal for this semester was to branch into the field of psychologically affective installation art. Though I am experienced in drawing, painting, and small-scale sculpture, I felt too constricted by these mediums. I wanted to create something that physically surrounded my viewers, so that they could have a more immersive and emotionally profound experience.
I was inspired by multisensory installations such as Lull Studios' Snoosphere in Australia and Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return in New Mexico. Both exhibitions display an array of tactile, audio, visual, and even olfactory creations from a variety of artists with the common goal of creating a surreal, introspective, immersive experience for all types of audiences. Lull Studios has a specific goal of providing sensory stimulation and relaxation for viewers on the autism spectrum, and the studio employed several artists with neurodivergencies to make additions to Snoosphere that reflect their experiences and needs as people with sensory processing disorders. House of Eternal Return focuses on visual storytelling, and the complexity of its narratives is carefully organized to create a singular, cohesive world comprised of countless objects, doorways, sounds, colors, and textures. Both of these exhibits encapsulate my interest in complete transportation to an imaginary realm, and they inspired my initial design for this piece.
I also researched individual artists dealing with immersion and installation through various methods including lighting, color, sound, tactility, minimalism, and fantasy. Both physical and conceptual elements of my project were inspired by works from Jonathan Bolitho, Pipilotti Rist, Chiharu Shiota, Yayoi Kusama, Tanya Schultz, and Julia Sinelnikova.
My ultimate goal in harnessing these artistic influences was to establish a sense of empathy between myself and my viewers through our asynchronous experiences with my piece. I attempted to conceptualize an installation that would bring together aspects of my personal style and common facets of meditative spaces in order to create an overall sense of peace and introspection.
My first design fitting these parameters was a wooden cylinder comprised of removable beams held together by pegs. I imagined paneling or cloth lining the interior of the piece to which I could apply other calming decorations. I chose a circular form to avoid the sharp edges of square-shaped spaces, which I figured would disrupt the continuity of whatever I placed inside. I also simply find round shapes to be more calming than their angular counterparts.
When I started considering how I would physically construct this wooden space, I admittedly became nervous. While I have experience in woodworking, I worried that this bare structure would take up too much time in comparison to all of the additional features that would have to be constructed inside of it to fully close it off from the outside world.
I sought out to imagine a different structure that could fully encapsulate the viewer from harsh gallery lights and busy social environments while being flexible to work with and easy to add to. After a period of brainstorming, I decided to create the piece entirely out of fabric.
The new structure I envisioned resembled a canopy similar to what one would place over a or a reading nook. Any decorations I wanted to add could be sewn directly into the interior lining, and the entryway could become more of a grand, welcoming gesture through two drawn curtains. I daydreamed of creating a sewn fantasy land within the fabric canopy.
At this point, the semester had not yet begun, but I had a relatively firm grasp on how I would execute the piece. I researched methods of materializing flowers out of fabric, and I began considering how lighting would play into the aesthetic of the piece. I compiled photos of contemporary art, interior design, crafting, and lighting that piqued my interest and could inspire later decorating decisions. Having fully flushed out the conceptual aspects of my planning, it was time to delve into the physical realm.
A professor of mine once said, "I firmly believe in the power of collecting materials and letting them inspire you. When you aren't sure where to start, go gather some supplies." I took this approach as the semester began, scouring craft stores online and in-person to compile a photo album of potential fabrics, ribbons, ropes, and fake flowers. Not only did this adventuring stage show me which materials I wanted to use, but it also gave me a general sense of which aspects of my artwork are most important to me. I found myself especially drawn to certain color combinations, motifs of nature and fantasy, and pieces with a specifically timeless quality. This curious exploration was truly one of my favorite parts of the semester, and I will replicate it in the future when I am in need of inspiration.
As stimulated as I was by the selections at Joann's and Michael's, I came to the conclusion after price surfing that it would not be financially feasible for me to construct the piece out of entirely new fabric. With the dimensions I was planning on giving this piece, I would need a source of cheap material that could be easily added to and layered upon itself. In the spirit of many other projects I have completed over the years, I hit the thrift stores, and the character of my piece began to show itself.
One of my supervisors for this project, SV Randall, has impressed upon me the importance of letting your artwork tell you what it wants to become. With each piece I complete, I become more comfortable disregarding my neurotic desire for control and working with my art rather than forcing it to be what I initially sketched.
That being said, this is a large piece. It's the largest piece I've ever made.
I was incredibly nervous to let it take a new direction.
However, with the accumulation of secondhand fabrics I was amassing from thrift shops all over town, I knew that I had to pay my respects to the past lives these materials had lived. At this point, my concentration shifted towards the energy infused in each garment I collected, and I let go of my whimsical fairyland concept. My work from then on became a study of how materials speak to us as artists and as viewers.
I made unexpected discoveries about myself through the accumulation of thrifted materials. For instance, I had no idea that I had focused entirely on traditionally feminine garments until one of my supervisors pointed it out to me. I realized later that, while I had sought fabrics that brought me a sense of comfort, I collected garments that would be worn by women. My own identity as a feminine person may have played into this, but I suspect it was influenced more by my association of motherhood with comfort. I was raised by two amazing parents who always supported me in every way imaginable, but I spent much of my time specifically in the presence of my mother throughout my childhood, as she stayed at home while my father worked. Over the years, her emotionally tender and nurturing companionship became the primary alleviation of any anxiety, sadness, doubt, or discomfort brought about my situations outside of myself. As a fully grown adult, I have carried these associations between womanhood and comfort into both my psychological and artistic perceptions.
There are a few materials in the piece that make a notable impact on its sentimental value in my eyes. The most important of these is a piece of white sheet with green, blue, pink, and purple paint. This was cut from a king-size sheet that my mother bought and hung up for my third birthday party; my friends and I, barely old enough to steadily wield paintbrushes, were provided with spray bottles and paintbrushes accompanied by washable paints. With the assistance of our mothers, we decorated the entire sheet with smudges, splatters, handprints, and even a few wobbly signatures that can be found in various places on my capstone. I have always been incredibly touched by the dedication my parents put into creating that party for me, recognizing even then that I was happiest when I was making art.
The blue, purple, and pink sheets with paint marks are from a more recent rendition of this party; when I turned 22, I gathered my parents, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmother to do whatever they saw fit with three sheets and a variety of paints. It was a cathartic experience that connected me with my past self while adding a collaborative element to my project. If one subscribes to the notion of emotional residues being imprinted upon objects, then these pieces sewn into the canopy resonate with togetherness, celebration, and love.
Once I had a sizable collection of sheets, shirts, dresses, robes, scarves, and ribbons, I set to assemble and sew the outer curtain. I deliberately placed and pinned fabrics next to one another so that their contours and colors complemented their neighboring counterparts; for example, no two blues were placed next to one another unless they were deemed compatible. I endeavored to create variety in the sizes, shapes, textures, and colors of the pieces as they were added to the project.
Under the advice of SV Randall, I tried to let the original shapes of each piece, such as sleeves and collars, dictate how they were sewn. The quilting process became like a jigsaw puzzle, and it was satisfying to work in symbiosis with my materials rather than trying to dominate them. In a sense, the materials' identities as garments were preserved although their function was altered.
The entire piece was sewn on a base of larger sheets to ensure that the dimensions were consistent and that no light would enter through the multiple layers of fabric.
Along with quilting, I was offered a lesson in metalworking for this project. Having observed how heavy the piece was becoming after adding supplemental fabrics, I realized the plastic hoop I had purchased to round out the top of the canopy would not suffice. I had also determined that the aforementioned hoop, which had a diameter of 3 feet, was too small to afford viewers with a comfortable space in which to stand. Steel was in order to keep the structure sturdy while scaling up the size; I purchased two 8-foot rods, and under the instruction of SV Randall I bent them into semicircles which were subsequently welded together. The sides of the canopy were attached before welding so that they were permanently attached to the hoop afterwards.
Once the piece was welded shut, it was ready to be strung up in the rafters of the display space. At first, I considered using aerial silks to hang the piece; they are designed to hold substantial weight, and I find their sheen and flow to be gorgeous. However, nylon rope ended up being a much more affordable and versatile material.
I allowed the rope suspending the piece to also function as the foundation for its shape at the top; a final circular quilt was overlaid to fully seal off the piece from any exterior light entering it from above.
Prior to tying the piece together, I created a few diagrams of how I planned to interweave the separate strands into a functional support system.