Goodbye ‘American Dreamers’ in Florence, Italy…

All photos by Martino Margheri courtesy of CCCS

Last week, my work arrived home from Florence Italy from the ‘American Dreamers’ show at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea at Palazzo Strozzi (affectionately, the Strozzina).  And it made me realize that I have yet to really get any sort of images up about the show on this here blog….I have just been that busy, with a giant performance/installation project that came out of nowhere, and piles of planning for a 5 week residency in Iceland, collaborating with my family.  I’ve spent that last few hours finally looking through all the images I took of this incredible adventure to Italy and thinking how lucky I am to have been invited by Bartholomew Bland, curator at The Hudson River Museum in NY, and what a privilege it was to work with all the staff at Strozzina and director Franziska Nori.

When the inimitable Mr. Bland proposed I participate in the show, he wrote

“…through the current financial crisis—a sense of social and economic safety have increasingly been put under strain.  Today the “American Dream” seems to be in crisis. Yet a sense of optimism, a capacity for creative imagination, and the willingness to believe in positive outcomes remain crucial to the American self-image.   A group of American artists of different generations reflect these impulses in their work, creating a sort of retreat from reality, a refuge in fantastical alternate worlds that are safe and, above all, controllable. These works, often realized with a subtle sense of irony or criticism towards the current society, are based on an aesthetics defined by fantasy and dream images, by fairytale creatures or images taken from the media, as well as actual parallel worlds enlarged or in miniature which refute the real world in favour of other realities, often made of splendour and success, even if just imagined.

For some artists, a fantasy world is their critique of contemporary society. Others, struggling to make sense of the real world, find it easier to create and then cope in an alternative one. A psychic break with reality or the creation of a better counter-reality becomes, for them, a form of agency.

Despite everything, everything, I cling to a sense of optimism, especially boarding a plane to Italy.  Like many American artists, I have long heard of the greater importance placed on artists’ contributions to culture in Europe, and I can attest to being treated so much more like a valued professional than I am in my own city.  Not to mention the creation of a meaty catalog I am still reading with a myriad of analyses of the American Dream mythology, and its crumbling reality (and some really stellar educational materials for young visitors!).

It has left me with still much to think about my role in this ‘dream’ mythology, how I have internalized ‘bootstrap’ fantasy and the resulting imagery in my artwork.  It wasn’t until I was interviewed at the opening that I had even articulate into words what might be ‘American’ in my work; I have never intentionally placed my work in that context. But my hunger as an artist does rely on a sense of making amazing things with what I have around me, what I have available, what is discarded, with a definite reverence for traditional craft based in survival.  There was a subtle thread of this running through the show…the sow’s ear into the silk purse, which seemed to counterbalance other dystopian currents.  I found it striking to have examined parts of myself that I hold dear to be chalked up to my American-ness, particularly because I imagine my work to be grounded in narratives and archetypes that are so much older.  But maybe that right there is the mirror being held up, the good-natured lack of self-awareness that seems to plague Americans and annoy the rest of the world.  It left me questioning a great deal.

The installation I created was a reworking and an expansion of other installations from a 3 year period, giving me the opportunity to bring to the surface other themes in installations I have already done and to see my work as a continuum rather than separate compartments.  In a very long thin gallery in the Pallazzo’s former wine cellar, with crossing masonry arches for a ceiling, I built a meandering path between two opposite states, that of a deep black lunar image and a glittering bright reflective solar experience, with a shadowing earthly pathway of greenery between, like both the cloying jungle and underwater depth of a kelp forest.

I called it “Cynosura” , which I believe is the Greek word for the North Star/Polaris, from when before the star was the pole star.  I named this pathway this because the North Star has been and still is used for Celestial Navigation, which uses both the moon and the sun to navigate around the globe.  ‘Cynosure’ is now used as a word to describe something that is constant, unchangeable, as a contrast to our fast and ephemeral human lives and concerns.  But the pole star actually shifts over time, because like us, the stars are in flux as well, just on a larger scale.  So when ‘Cynosura’ was named so, after a nymph, the star was not the pole star used as a constant, but now it is.  So even when trying to describe something as “unchangeable” we can’t seem to do it.

Cynosura seems apt for this passage experience, which presented two opposite celestial realms, and a journey through a third transitory realm. In actuality, they are not opposite but part of a greater whole celestial realm.  They are only perceived as opposites by human experience because of how we experience them traveling on our little earth.  What we perceive as transitory, the lush greenery of a single season, is actually cyclical, perpetually happening again and again, just as stars are born again and again and cycle and die as well.

“Saltus Chori Aevum” performance this past spring, upcoming film…

I just wanted to share some incredible images shot by filmmaker/photographer Rodrigo Valenzuela of my big project this past spring, another iteration of my on-going process-based community art installation Mater Matrix Mother and Medium.  His images somehow transform the sometimes over-troden Seattle Center into a temple complex.  Rodrigo will be premiering a short film he has made about these 2012 performances titled “Saltus Chori Aevum”, this July 3rd from 5-8pm at the The Rendezvous Jewel Box Theater, in Seattle.

Please join us!  And now a bit of what I had to say about this project and performance from the Mater Matrix Mother and Medium blog:

“Mandy Greer’s ongoing Mater Matrix Mother and Medium project premiers a new multi-media performance entitled “Saltus Chori Aevum”, all words in Latin that mean “passage” but in very different forms, from the passage of time, to a passage in music, to a passage in the landscape.

Led by the three female figures of the Moirai – the Spinner, the Allotter and the Unturnable – this experiential performance delves into how simultaneous and conflicting states of being function in collusion.  Referencing the transformational ability of water to slip between three states, and the spectrum of impact water has on the human drama –from tranquility all the way to devastation– the performance will interweave rites of passage into an investigation of the sometimes-contradictory predicament of being both an individual and a member of a group.

Created in collaboration by Greer, choreographer/dancer Jessica Jobaris, performance artist/vocalist Saskia Delores, harpist/poet Monica Schley, dancer Andrea Ives and video artist Rodrigo Valenzuela.  The performers, working together or apart, traverse the landscape, coaxing out the thin space between manual labor and contemplative practice.  Small acts of menial work  — washing, cleaning, caretaking, spinning, weaving — are revealed as thresholds to states of transformation, exploring the dual role of water in the mundane and the mystical.

Presented by The Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and Commissioned by Seattle Public Utilities 1% for Art.  MMMM celebrates and interprets the splendor of Seattle’s urban watersheds and encourages stewardship, especially as it connects to SPU’s work.  MMMM performance and installation is sponsored by the Seattle Center Foundation’s Next 50 program of events, during Sustainable Futures month. “


Creative Direction, Installation, Costumes: Mandy Greer

Choreography: Jessica Jobaris

Vocals, Mixing, Co-production: Saskia Delores

Harp, Vocals, Arrangement: Monica Schley

Video, contributing sound design: Rodrigo Valenzuela

The Three Moirai: Jessica Jobaris, Saskia Delores, Monica Schley

The Two Supplicants: Andrea Ives and Mandy Greer

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Two shows open late-March in Seattle: “RED CURRENT (sweet fruit)” and “Lavish and Lush”

The Pelican Goddess

The Pelican Goddess

And I’m back. From Italy, and almost un-sick! And already getting ready for two shows that open very soon in my own backyard.  The first is the brainchild of two raven-haired, whip-smart art mavens of the contemporary Northwest scene; independent curator/artist/entrepreneur Sharon Arnold and legendary Roq la Rue gallerist Kirsten Anderson.

RED CURRENT (sweet fruit) has been curated by Arnold to capture a moment of red hot intensity in the Seattle Art landscape, curating 37 artists into a salon-style survey of what is happening right now in this community. I am thrilled to show one of my favorite works, “The Pelican Goddess”, with a group of artists I’m humbled to be a part of.

by Counsel Langley, "Far North"

by Counsel Langley, "Far North"

The line-up, please:

Mandy Greer  Kimberly Trowbridge  Amanda Manitach  Izzie Klingels  Serrah Russell  Saskia Delores  Debra Baxter  Jess Rees  Anne Blackburn  Erin Frost  Lynda Sherman Laura Ward  Jennifer McNeely  Susanna Bluhm  Counsel Langely  Erin Shafkind  Claire Johnson  Klara Glosova  Andrea Wicklund  Gala Bent  Rumi Koshino  Naomi Faith Allyce Wood  Julie Alpert  Crystal Barbre  Deborah Scott  Kristen Ramirez  Allie Manch  Ellen Garvens  Cristin Ford  Gretchen Bennett  Francesca Lohmann  Emily Pothast Bette Burgoyne  Jennifer Borges Foster  Jennifer Zwick  and Stacey Rozich

Amanda Manitach

Amanda Manitach

The show opens on Friday March 23rd from 6-9pm and runs through April 7, 2012 and Kirsten Anderson promises a festive opening with themed ‘treats’, if you will.

Roq la Rue Gallery  |  2312 2nd Ave. |  Seattle  | 206-374-8977







The second show I show up in is “Lavish and Lush”, part of the clay-bombing of Seattle that’s about to happen when the NCECA Conference blows into town this March 28th-31st.  The 2012 theme for the conference is “On the Edge”, which I guess works for me since I’ll be showing photographs…of fiber, and clay and flesh.  If anyone knows my history, it begins in clay.  That beginning still bares a trace in the piles of visceral messy fluidity I bring to the fore in fabric, and most distinctly in the “root room” I made last year at my Roq la Rue show “Honey and Lightening”, which was soaked in latex paint and mud from the foundation of my home.

The Cherry Tree Root Chamber, detail, 2011

The Cherry Tree Root Chamber, detail, 2011

The process of making that installation was a sloppy, goopy mess, so full of the pleasure I found in working with clay for years, but without the need to go near a kiln.  It pushed clay back into my work, not as objects or even sculptural material, but time-based sensuality incorporated into some of my performance-based photographs.

The Golden Cage, archival ink jet print, 2011

The Golden Cage, archival ink jet print, 2011

Curated by Tammie Renee Rubin, artist and assistant professor of ceramics at University of Illinois and artist Erin Furimsky, visiting professor at Illinois State University and Heartland Community College,

“Lavish and Lush” is an exhibition of experimental sculptural objects and small installations that are both excessive and obsessive in concept, composition, and materiality. Each artist in this exhibition possesses a lavish and lush aesthetic, creating prolific works wrought with sumptuous surfaces, ornate renderings, and sensual textures that are both visual and tactile feasts. Like feast on food, one feels comforted and nourished, but if the consumption continues the experience shifts uncomfortably to one of over consumption and repulsion”.

Since Claypalooza is only in town for a short while, there is a limited amount of time you can catch the show as well as a whole host of other NCECA shows at:

Seattle Design Center/Suite 366  |  5701 Sixth Avenue South |  Seattle, WA 98108

Two opening receptions, Tuesday, March 27, 5p – 9p & Friday, March 30, 5p – 9pm

Monday/26, Wednesday/28, Thursday/29:   9AM to 5 PM

Tuesday/27: 9 AM to 9PM

Friday/30: 10 AM to 9 PM

Saturday, March 31, 10 AM to 5 PM

News and Events


  •  Cowl and Pom-Pom Headdress WORKSHOPS: Over until fall. Private parties are available.

“American Dreamers” at CCC Strozzina, in Firenze, Italy opens tonight!

I have been in Florence, Italy all week installing a new/remix installation called Cynosura to be part of the exhibition “American Dreamers” at the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea at Palazzo Strozzi!   Curated by the delightful Bartholomew Bland from the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers New York, and also the incredible Franzisca Nori from the CCC Strozzina, the last several months have been a whirlwind of preparation, and intense attention to details, all leading to the opening tonight!

From the CCCS website:

Does the “American dream” still exist? Since 11 September 2011 the United States of America has witnessed the collapse of its sense of invulnerability and security, but the ability to dream and the will to believe in the future have maintained their central place in the idea of “being American”.
The exhibition comprises a reflection on the work of artists who use fantasy, imagination and dreams to build alternative worlds to the increasingly complex reality of life today. Some condense the essence of reality into miniaturised systems while others expand outwards into space, and yet others feed on fantastic, dreamlike images or reflect on such symbolic themes as the home and the family, or the mass media imagery, which play even today a central role in the construction of the myth of the American way of life.

More soon, after the revealing tonight!  The CCCS is a labyrinth in the old ancient wine cellars of the Strozzi Palazzo, this time sending us winding through small sparkling worlds of fantasy made predominantly of humble materials or the detritus of the outside world.  The shapes and forms of the building itself along with the exhibition design vision of Berlin artist/designer Markus Bader, lends to the sense of the entire show being one meandering installation.  I’m thrilled to see what people will think…more soon after tonight!

Paul installing at CCCS, Florence Italy

ONN/OF Festival! Register here for my workshops!


**ALL WORKSHOPS FULL**  but keep your eyes out for more workshops hosted in my studio, due to the overwhelming demand!  Join my mailing list or Facebook page

This January 28th and 29th a new festival pops up in Seattle’s Ballard Industrial district, ONN/OF -A Light Festival, created by writer/walker Jim Demetre, post-medium artist Susan Robb and curator Sierra Stinson.  Each of these folks, in their own generative practices delve into and illuminate what it means to bring people to place to art to community.  As a triumvirate, they are boldly challenging the deep gray of Seattle’s somewhat depressing winters, and boosting morale through art, food, music, artist-made goods and workshops, all wrapped into one weekend “of illumination, warmth, and gloom-banishing engagement.”

Most exciting for me is these lovely people have asked me to create  workshops for the festival!  Inspired by history of the site for the festival and the people who once worked there — an 11,000 sq. foot warehouse that was once a family-owned Knitting factory Jim Demetre grew up in —  I wanted to create a project that could at once engage people in the pleasure of making with their hands but also probe some of the issues of production/labor/waste/over-consumption/debt we all need to grapple with in contemporary life.

So I’ll be facilitating a project called “Gleaning, Redeeming, Surviving and Thriving: “ and be leading 14 people through the process of taking discarded cheap materials, investing them with one’s time and creating an amazing wearable piece.

Each workshop, one on Saturday 28th from 4-7pm and one on Sunday 29th from 1-4pm, can only take 7 people each, since we’ll be working on handmade lap looms.

So register now to make sure you have a spot!  The cost is only $18 per person, with 3 hours with me and use of the studio during the whole day of the festival!  You’ll be gathering your own materials, engaging with a site of contemporary gleaning: the bins at the Goodwill Outlet.

Register with me through Paypal, and ***please include in the “message to the merchant” your name, email and phone number AND which day you are registering for, either Sat. from 4-7pm or Sun. 1-4pm.***

Now read my Magna Carta below about the WHY and HOW we’ll be doing with  “Gleaning, Redeeming, Surviving and Thriving”!

**FULL** on Sat. 28th,  4-7pm…

**FULL**  on Sun 29th, 1-4pm…

“Gleaning, Redeeming, Surviving and Thriving:  
A project facilitated by multi-disciplinary artist Mandy Greer, engaging the participant in site history, slow process, re-thinking use, and re-examining self-esteem via self-sufficiency rather than purchasing power.
The making of a ‘highly prized’ fashionable object out of the discards of the fashion machine of psychological obsolescence.
Despite the transition away from the slow process of harvesting, hand spinning, hand weaving and hand-sewing of cottage industry textile making to the mass produced textiles that so marked the age of the Industrial Revolution, a long-surviving culture of inventive hand-making of usable goods continued, particularly among the textile workers of these massive mechanized factories.   To survive, to cloth their own family, warm their own floors, to have pride in their own resourceful creativity, these workers gleaned the wool scraps and selvedge edges, the cigar wrappers, the broken buttons, the extra thread, the used burlap bags, to create remarkable works of art.

This project asks the participant to engage in a contemporary site of gleaning: The Goodwill Outlet.  “The Bins” are an overwhelming striking visual scene of our contemporary way of life of intense consumption, of using goods for a very short time, discarding them before they are worn out, and the massive amount of energy spent on just what to do with this constant flow of fabric.

The site itself begs the question “why are we producing this much? Do we need it?”

Entrenched in the garment industry today is waste (despite the “greening’ of  production in some small pockets of the industry).  Things are not made to last and not made of quality materials, embedded with the planned obsolescence of ever-changing ‘style’.

Before we became “wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals”, as cultural critic Vance Packard warned us, ‘esteem’ from clothing came not from being able to buy the ever-shifting newest thing, but from the pride one felt in making the elaborate hand-made and individuated garments defined now as ‘folk-costume’.
Our cultural critics today tell us we have moved from being people who can produce to people who only consume.  During the course of this project, step back and examine this, examine the art of ‘gleaning’ and slowly making something from the leftovers of our over-buying and over-production. Participants are asked to spend an afternoon at “The Bins” before attending the workshop, picking through the mountains of discarded fabrics, choosing about 5-8 garments made of  ‘t-shirt’ knit material.
Using handmade looms that are adaptations of a childhood craft called spool knitting — rake looms from Germany date back to 1535 –  the project facilitator Mandy Greer will lead the participant through the gleaning process to creating yarn to creating a dramatic handmade wearable work,  a giant cowl scarf.  So fashionable au currant…but Monks have been wearing them for centuries!
Will you get rid of something that took hours to make the same as you might  a $12 t-shirt from Old Navy?  Reinvest these discarded materials with ‘specialness’ through time, your time with the materials…by making choices as you make, your own choices..In this Era of economic recession, stress, depression, a climate in which we are constantly told we don’t have enough and don’t have enough to buy it, lets celebrate new ideas (that are actually old) of finding pride in making-do, re-investing in what we have, inventing and creating something that makes you feel good by being self-reliant.
Much like the site of the knitting factory itself, transitioning from one use to another, no longer part of one form of fashionable production, but renewed by the collective energy of ONN/OF, a site for optimistically gathering to inspire each other!!$18 to participate in a 3 hours session, and use of the studio and tools the rest of the day during the ONN/OF Festival, 7 participants per session.
Sign up ahead of time! Then collect and wash materials from the Goodwill Outlet:
1765 6th Ave S
(between Holgate St & Massachusetts St)
Seattle, WA 98134
Neighborhood: SODO
(206) 957-5516
Mon-Sun 8am-6pm
For the non-experienced hand-worker, just the desire to go through the myriad of steps to taking what is discarded into something highly valued (i.e. ‘fashionable”). “

My pom pom bling gets props in Seattle Met blog…

I’m giddy!!  Artist/designer/Illustrator/style maven Izzie Klingels commissioned me to make her a giant pom pom neck piece and then she says “beg borrow or steal” one on Seattle Met’s blog post about Style Resolutions for 2012 from Seattle’s most innovative creative professionals!  What a treat!  Izzie makes hypnotic hyper intensive drawings like this one of a flowering skull and many more that seem to be made of candy floss or steam!  You can get prints of her work at her Etsy shop Les Yeux d’Extase.  You can get your own Giant Pom Pom bling, each one a complete individual, at my own Etsy shop!

New work on Smart Urban Stage’s “Future of the City” project: Vote for me!

Last month, I was asked to participate in international project and competition by Smart Urban Stage.  They asked me to join in their “Future of the City” project, “a global online project asking pioneers from metropolises around the world to question the urban status quo.”

I was asked by Berlin-based designer Mario Lombardo to answer, using my work, ‘What should the surface of the city look like?’

Only using my work to answer a question really perplexed me.  Most often, the focus of my work is as a human animal in the city looking to the natural environment, looking out away from the metropolis and exploring the longing to disappear back into the woods.  This seems to haunt many cusp-dwellers in Seattle…we look towards the mountains, towards the woods, and towards the sea.  I decided to treat the city as that view point I’m often looking into.

And I decided to let go of the “should” in the question….I don’t know what the city ‘should’ look like.  All too often, I am a little repelled by the clean, sparkling, slick urban planning designs of what a city ‘should’ look like.  They seem to leave little room for the petri dishes of creativity that bloom and flourish underground in cities, where people create expansive visions of their lives out of the detritus left over from the urban scene.  I decided to go looking around in my city for these views of flux and creativity that bloom up out of things that are decaying, or recycling, or rebirthing.

I live in close proximity to many of the sites that trash and recycling from my city goes to as it heads to different processing points….this is part of the city too.  Places full of texture and life, and work and movement forward….I find this underside more interesting than the surface.  I’m drawn to the pockets and secret places that  keeps the city moving, breathing and creating!  I packed my car full of crocheting, pom poms, headdresses, capes (all made of pile and pile of ground up discarded clothes) and my husband, my son and my camera, and we went to play and explore in some of these places.

The texture, the surface of the city ‘should’ always be one of overlapping histories preserved and renewed, fertile grounds for creative growth (not just economic growth), layers of time observed, hidden places for individuals to make space for themselves on their own terms, creative renewal only possible in reclaiming what is in the flux of decay.   Once we returned home from the adventures, combing through the images, I began to see patterns and archetypes, much like I do when I am turning my gaze to the natural environment; images of the of mythic cycles,  of the temple, the shaman, the recluse, the compass and the future.

All 8 artists who answered the question “What should the surface of a city look like?” are now up for the textile competition, and then whomever wins will be a part of another vote in January where the grand prize winner get some cash!

Please take a look at my work and vote here! Voting end Friday Dec. 16th…

My ‘MMMM’ crocheted installation heads to NYC!

shot by Ian Lucero for MMMM film
shot by Ian Lucero for MMMM film

My installation ‘Mater Matrix Mother and Medium’ has been dormant for about a year, but is about to return in yet another form, this time winding its way 65 feet above the ground through the massive and dramatic stone canyon of columns of the Gothic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in NYC, as part of their exhibition and symposium “The Value of Water: Sustaining a Green Planet”, from September 2011 – March 2012.

You can read more about it here at my blog about MMMM.

Please consider supporting the traveling of this installation through a small donation on Kickstarter: “MMMM community crochet installation heads to NYC”

ALSO:  I’ll be at The Cathedral St. John the Divine this Sunday September 18th, 2011, crocheting on the grounds just behind the Peace Fountain.  If you just happen to be in NYC, I would love it if you could join me to crochet little pools for the next incarnation of MMMM.  I’ll be there from 12-3pm, and will have all materials and hooks, and can teach anyone to crochet.  If you have extra scrap blue yarn, I would gladly accept that too!  Or just drop by and say hello, and take a peak at the installation in the Cathedral.  Here’s the Facebook invite!

Installing at Herbert Bayer Earthworks, 2010
Installing at Herbert Bayer Earthworks, 2010

Solstenen project at Seattle’s ‘The Project Room’ is humming along, now till Sept. 2

I am delightfully busy now until September 2nd at The Project Room!  I’ve just updated the events calendar, so please join me if you are in Seattle, or please follow along on the Solstenen project blog!  Back to work for me!

Solstenen events at The Project Room will include weekly community crochet parties, and beginning in August, a variety of guest artist events and activities.  These events will be updated on the calendar on an on-going basis. Get updates through Twitter or Facebook, too!

Also come visit during Open Studio hours


  • August 6th, Saturday, Solstenen Guest Artist Event, 11 am -3 pm : Join Mandy in a Learning Demo in “low-tech/low water dyeing” from fabric artist and dyeing genius Cameron Anne Mason
  • August 7th, Sunday, Solstenen Guest Artist Event, 1pm – 3 pm-ish: Join Mandy in a ’round table’ chat (with pie) about “Artists Who Interview” with Joey Veltkamp, Saskia Delores, Tessa Hulls, Sharon Arnold and Amanda Manitach
  • August 9th, Tuesday, Community Crochet Party, 3:30 – 7:30pm
  • August 11th, Thursday, Solstenen Guest Artist Event and Community Crochet, 5 – 8pm; drop in during Blitz Capital Hill Arts Walk for crocheting, and at 6pm join artist Cameron Anne Mason for a talk on the how and why she creates pattern in fabric
  • August 15-20th, Guest Artist Working, Amanda Manitach will be working in the studio with Mandy, using The Project Room’s large lovely walls for drawing, and other things!  Amanda’s hours: M, T, Th. – S; 12 -5 pm
  • August 16th, Tuesday, Community Crochet Party, 3:30 – 7:30pm
  • August 23rd, Tuesday, Community Crochet Party, 3:30 – 7:30pm
  • August 30th, Tuesday, Community Crochet Party, 3:30 – 7:30pm

What is Solstenen?

Solstenen is a year-long project chronicling the process of learning about, and the making of, a new body of creative work. It will render visible the meandering exploratory process involved in creating fully-realized artworks that is often unseen, but a fertile ground that must be turned.  For my artistic practice, that fertile ground is ‘learning, sharing, influence and confluence’.  An overlapping strata of concepts layering and growing together like a kombucha mother, I need this to make my work and to direct my life.    As an avid autodidact I am always seeking new paths for my work to take me on, more through lived experiences than theory, propelled forward by sparks of serendipitous connections and chance meetings that send me in an alluvial fan of directions rather than a rigid single line.

The word ‘Solstenen’ (sun stone) is the fabled Viking Compass from the Hrafns sagas, believed to be a mineral that was used as a navigational compass; probably the mineral cordierite (iolite), by polarizing skylight, it was used to locate the hidden sun, and might be one component of the masterful Viking navigation.  It seemed only fitting to take on this word to name this journey-based project, one where I know my direction but don’t know the conceptual terrain I will cover to get there.  While the traditional compass, interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field is fascinating enough, a compass that relies on a stone and the incredible observational powers of a sailor just thrills me!

The Journey:

I have been carrying with me for a while, like a stone in my pocket I sometimes touch, my reaction to an A.S. Byatt short story “A Stone Woman”, that I read in 2005.  It’s a story of a woman numbed with grief and apathy, then finding herself more alive as her physical body becomes a part of the natural landscape.  It’s so much more than that.  But at the time, still a very new mother, I identified with the numbness and a heavy rigidity in my body. It’s something I’ll need to unpack over the course of exploring/building this work…why I identified so precisely with this metamorphosis our quiet hero Ines was going through. I have also always felt magnetically pulled to stories and fables of people pulled into the mysteries of nature, never to return (the call of the White Stag in SBMWP).

Small but Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006
Small but Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006

Far from knowing exactly why and how I’ll be doing things, thinking about things and making things, I am here at the vulnerable beginning of not knowing, but pointed in a direction.  There will be many starts and stops, concepts and ideas discarded or cultivated till they flourish.  That’s what I’m here to explore in this process project.

The Text:

Byatt’s fairy tale-like story tells of a middle-aged woman who, grieving the death of her mother, finds herself having emergency surgery from a life-threatening mysterious stomach ailment.  Numbed by grief and physical pain, seeing her small world in shades of grey and dust, she is intrigued to discover the hardness at her healing incision is actually veins of red stone spreading around her body, and sprouts of green minerals at her armpits.   Resigned to death by petrifaction, as the multi-colored, brilliant and evolving minerals overtake her flesh, she meets and reveals her metamorphosis to an Icelandic stone carver.  He takes her on a pilgrimage to Iceland —  a geologically capricious land where stones are alive and with legends of humans becoming stone trolls – to find a place of belonging, dissolving into the vibrant life-force of an ever-changing landscape of magma, weather and time.

In my mind, my strong reaction to Byatt’s story has always been entangled with my feelings about the symbol of the Albatross seabird as a weighty penance for violence against nature from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and also the central act of labor in the Greek myth of Sisyphus, eternally rolling the stone back up the hill (the last week of finishing an installation brings me there). 

So with an amalgamation of literary influences, I plan to explore themes of weight, physical burden and labor as external symbols of internal self-transformation, the act of creating and becoming of a broader identity beyond the personal, metamorphosing into the environmental.  I’ll also engage in a closer reading of all of these works, and the works they take me to – I haven’t read Ancient Mariner since high school but the image seems to haunt my work (especially during the awkward agony of sewing the skin around my giant Pelican), and though I love the Greek myth, I ditched Camus’ Sisyphus in college in favor of reading Walker Percy in the sunshine.  It’s time to revisit.

Pelican Goddess from 'Dare alla Luce', 2008
Pelican Goddess from ‘Dare alla Luce’, 2008

The Making:

Along with me on this journey is my husband, artist Paul Margolis, who will travel with me to Iceland (along with our son) in 2012.  But before that, I will begin by making us clothes. I will be making mantles of stones for Paul and me to wear, created by crocheting nets of fabric and by spinning Icelandic wool around stones collected from my environment, and minerals based on the encyclopedic taxonomy of minerals described by Byatt from Ines’ transformation, weaving these stones together into a massive garment to be worn and woven into my hair and his beard.  This will accompany a kind of ‘hair-shirt’ Albatross gown made from thousands of handmade feathers of countless variety of found and dyed gray fabrics; a gown large enough that it could, say, even accommodate a large boulder in the sleeve.

The Golden Cage, 2011
The Golden Cage, 2011

Reflection and refraction of natural imagery, revealing hidden patterns, is a critical theme in my work, and will continue with the making of mirrored wearable sculptural elements that will be worn with the stone and feathered clothes to created kaleidoscopic reflections in performative photographic and video work.   This desire to continue probing refraction and reflection comes out of my 2011 installation The Honey Moon Chamber, where a massive jewelry box of mirrors around a golden erupting chandelier seemed to reveal an endless hidden world I wanted to blend into (and seemed to already…there were so many of me already behind the glass).

Honey Moon Chamber, 2011
Honey Moon Chamber, 2011

A Physical journey as well:

Reading the Byatt story compels me to travel to Iceland, to see if I can know what part of her description is idealized, or even if that’s possible.  I also long, long, long to work quietly and steadily in one place in a landscape, until I notice the subtle daily changes, like I did creating my environmental installation Mater Matrix Mother and Medium in 2009.

Mater Matrix Mother and Medium, 2009

So in Spring 2012, I’ll journey to a 5-week residency in Iceland with my husband, Paul, where we’ll use the massive garments to immerse ourselves in the radically dramatic landscape, explore our themes, creating works of eco-installation, performance, photography and video. And to just be, to see what happens, discard what doesn’t work and allow discovery.

Laboring together in the landscape– performing Sisyphean extreme exertion – we’ll un-pack notions about our life’s work together; the metaphor of the heavy body pulled to earth is one avenue to examine the progression of creating a life, then losing it as the body ages.  As collaborators on building a life together, the natural and desired end is that we would experience together the inevitable passage of our bodies back to earth.

Me in the Tree, the Tree in Me, 2001, Paul Margolis

Our work will also be to learn about Icelandic mythology, clay and pottery, Icelandic wool and fiber arts, and how this history of traditional arts funnels into Icelandic contemporary art practices.  My work as a multi-media artist has always been informed by deep haptic pull towards traditional crafts arts, particularly fibers and traditional costume.  With the Icelandic sheep that grows a fiber like nowhere else on Earth, and a culture that respects the hand-arts of women to the point where they put it on their money, I have to explore this.  I’ll be engaging with contemporary and traditional makers in Iceland as part of a series of interviews I’ll be doing for this blog, which will begin first at home with artists I admire and want to learn from.

Zuster, Sweostor, Systir, 2010


The beginning and end of this project take place a Seattle’s newest addition to the multidisciplinary interactive art scene, The Project Room. I’ll initiate the Solstenen project with a 7-week open-studio residency from July 14 – September 1, 2011.

I will begin the first stitch of this project at TPR, inviting community participation through hands-on workshops – namely the crochet parties that have been part of my process for the last few years, open studio hours, and other happenings – including interactive activities with guest artists during August 2011.

In the Fall of 2012, after the residency in Iceland, I’ll return to TPR to present the completed body of work as a site-specific 

As part of The Project Room Question, Why Do We Make Things?, this two-part program bookends this question as its first and final presentation.

The Guest Artists and You:

The Project Room will be asking Why Do We Make Things? in a variety of ways over the course of 2011/2012.  For my part, I feel asking this question by myself for 7 weeks– just in the space sewing/researching/crocheting — really makes no sense; I need the “we”.  In August, look out for a variety of activities involving artists whose brains I want to pick, get advice from and explore things that are new to me.  And come learn from me; the most simplest thing in the world is a crocheted chain, but like most simple things, it can fractal out and in beyond imagining. I’ll show you!