From 1997 to 2008 almost every piece of art I made was fundamentally dealt with the idea of autobiography. The pieces ranged from explicit self-portraiture to fictional autobiographies to theoretical investigations of the idea of autobiography itself. One might call it a preoccupation, but I prefer to think of it as an intellectual touchstone.
As I entered the fabric and quilting worlds autobiography receded; my work might have stemmed from a personal instance, but it often strayed far from that root. That has been changing as of late: Asbury and Thesaurus hold closer to their autobiographical bases, many of the book quilts arose from translating the struggles and joys of the life I now live. I have found myself returning to my artistic roots, back to myself.
And now, after my first adventure in Spoonflower-aided quilt design I have entered into a new stage in my practice, or perhaps I’ve just added another layer. Thus far I have exclusively worked with the connection of concepts to the practical spaces of our everyday lives, but with the technological aid of Spoonflower my visual and conceptual vocabularies have just expanded exponentially. There is a whole new avenue of work to explore.
So, I find myself setting out on making a series of self-portraits. As has been my practice these will likely range from pictorial to highly theoretical and everywhere in between. I am interested in exploring how I see myself in relation to quilts as objects and as concepts, not just in terms of how I see my practice as a maker (i.e. what kind of quilts do I make). I am interested in what the idea of a quilt, what its forms and processes, might lead me to explore about myself: my past, present, and future. So, it looks like I may be stepping into the arena of techno art quilter, or something like that…
This first quilt in the series is titled “Still Life with HKPP.”
For those of you who don’t know I have a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy knows as Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis; it is this disorder that forced me too leave my career in academia and, once we found a moderately effective management protocol, led me here, to fabric and quilts. The thing is, that process was a long, long road; it involved seemingly endless months in various paralytic states in bed. I couldn’t walk; sitting up was a struggle, as were breathing and even the basic beating of my heart. I couldn’t read more than a few sentences because my eye muscles had become so weakened that maintaining a fixed focus was nearly impossible.
I could watch movies in my bed, but before long that became tedious, my mind was desperate for activity, for stimulation, but even my cognitive abilities were impaired. Higher order and sustained thought became impossible. My world became incredibly small. And then I found a ridiculous online game, a wrestling game. It had a community of players, which expanded my world just a bit. It could be played in short discreet bits, which required neither sustained physical or intellectual focus. Like many online games it allowed character development, which gave me a space to create a story, to get outside of myself. Finally, all it required were a couple of functional fingers and a laptop. Add in the fact that I have written essays and lectured on professional wrestling over my years in academia and I had found a perfect something to keep me from going insane in my small little world of paralysis.
All this is back story, context; now for the details. My character’s name was Cindy Brady; yep, I know it is weird, but you’ll just have to bear with me. It would take days to explain Cindy’s back story and all of his neuroses. Anyway, Cindy kept me sane, as did the community in that game. In many ways Cindy was part of my rehab; writing him in little bits kept my mind active, eyes resisting the weakness, my fingers from just giving in to the paralysis. In short, Cindy became an inextricable part of my illness.
When I started thinking about this piece I had initially planned the nine images of me, each the same with just color reversals and the changes of direction. The piece was going to be about the monotony of my being and the compartmentalization of my body into testable samples and recording. The subdividing of each of the images of me disallowed a unitary body, a whole being that would be me; I had become a puzzle to be pieced back together, which seemed impossible at that time as the months dragged on and became years.
But just as I was going to print this piece at Spoonflower I realized that that portrait was not quite true, that there was a missing piece. That was Cindy. At the same time the inclusion of Cindy in the same box that she occupies in the opening credits to the Brady Bunch adds in something more. It transitions the entire image to an explicit recognition of the awkward translation of the personal to art; the autobiography here is not simply a confessional, but also a show. It begs the question of why write an autobiography as it is inevitably a type of fiction, much as my character Cindy Brady is a construction drawn out of myself, and just as the original Cindy Brady—in her bottom-left square—was drawn out of some writer’s experience nearly half a century ago.
In the end, that is just what interests me about autobiography, that awkward and sometimes fraught relationship that is looking back at the perceived facts of one’s own life, trying to make sense of them, and then attempting to convey some meaning from there. I am most interested in weaning metaphors from my experiences, layers expressions that can be read on a multitude of levels. This is a practice I’ve been missing profoundly, and am enormously glad to have found again. I am excited to see where it leads me; I have the next few planned and in various stages of making; I’ll keep you all up to date as the project progresses.
I have a feeling these basting pins are going to end up part of one of these before too long…