Monday, June 8, 2009

Square 16: Sewing seeds

Square 016

This weekend we took part in Sewing Seeds, an art event at Studio 490 facilitated by my friends Louisa and Anne and two other creative people from the community. It involved seminars about paper making and paper embroidery. We incorporated seeds of native prairie wildflowers and grasses into the papers, and later embroidered plant images on the sheets.

I made paper using seeds of two species I was curious about. Clematis virginiana is a native vine with small but attractive white flowers and appealing seed heads that grows alongside the road near my cottage. Penstemon digitalis is not familiar to me, but belongs to one of my favourite genera of native herbs.

Danny had never made paper before and became fully absorbed in that part of the process. As he said, it is an easy craft to do, hard to do well.

We both went back on Sunday for the second part, embroidery. I attempted to depict a clematis seed head with limited success. Danny sewed a spectacular Aster novae-angliae. He had expressed reservations about attending the second workshop; when I inquired later he explained that he feels clumsy with needle and thread. To see this flower, you would think he had been sewing for years.

Afterward the artists planned to literally plant their embroidered squares on the grounds outside the studio, so the stratified seed could germinate and establish a garden quilt. This seemed to be an exploration of ephemeral art, though the artists didn't explain it that way. The workshops placed more emphasis on the plants themselves, using art as a way to communicate about native species and guerrilla gardening.

I felt strong resistance to taking something I had created, which involved an investment of time and would normally be permanent, and subjecting it to conditions that would quickly return it to the elements. I need to think about that reaction, because it resembles the fear of death. I admire artists like Andy Goldsworthy who create ephemeral works, and have even tried my hand at it. Playing with driftwood on a beach is different, because you live your whole life expecting wood to float away. But composting embroidery?

Feminist artist Judy Chicago currently has a show at the Textile Museum of Canada. She expresses criticism of the habit of other feminists who historically created ephemeral art. Her textiles, by contrast, make a permanent statement. Amazing show, but that particular argument is questionable. It's like telling a dancer she should write poetry instead. People express themselves the best way they know. Sometimes ephemeral art communicates better. It can provoke powerful thoughts and emotions, different from the reaction to a work hanging on a wall separated from artist by time and space.

In the end I didn't have the heart to sacrifice my badly-stitched clematis to the earth. I brought it home along with one sheet of Penstemon paper.

Some of the paper came out an attractive pale green similar to the shade of this yarn. I used other fibres to describe the seed pods, plant parts and bits of recycled paper that added appeal to the paper. This blanket is permanent—my choice.

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