Monday, November 9, 2015

Night Flight Quilt Series at the Charles Allis Art Museum

"Night Flight no. 2"   58x57" WxH

"Night Flight no. 3" 75x57 WxH   

   At a very young age my mother showed me Georgia O’Keefe’s cloud paintings, and I was then hypnotized by the window every time I flew.  By the fourth grade I was flying solo to visit my grandmother in New Mexico and sketching the crops and patterns on the Earth in a self-made sketchbook.  While I grew up loving flight, there are a significant number of people who fear it.  This intense, visceral reaction to flight is part of the power of the series.

    In the winter of 2014 I pieced ‘Night Flight no. 1,’ while preparing for a January trip to Seoul, South Korea to see my college roommate, whom I hadn’t seen in a decade.  In November I’d flown from my home in Chicago to Florida to visit my mother, and I’d filmed many of the views from the sky.  'Night Flight no. 1' represents that moment of flying over an unknown city, while looking out the window of the plane.  ‘Night Flight no. 2’ depicts a moment much closer to the Earth, when preparing to land in an urban setting- I was inspired by a photo I took of Chicago, but it could be anywhere.   'Night Flight no. 3' was made with the exhibition at the Charles Allis Art Museum in mind.  The Allis family made their fortune selling farm equipment, and the city of Milwaukee was much smaller when they built the Allis home (now the museum) in 1911.  This quilt depicts an imagined moment in flight above Milwaukee that includes the lake on the right, and a large expanse of agricultural space on the left.  It is richly pieced in the dark areas to highlight the complexity of nature and agriculture in areas that are devoid of light and appear 'empty' when flying overhead at night.  The 'latitude lines' in this quilt are sewn in navy blue pearl cotton.
   In both quilts I used a Seminole Patchwork technique to create a grid affect for the lights. It was by far, the most efficient and appropriate technique to use.  It is an interesting choice symbolically: the Seminole Indians originally lived in Florida, but in the 1840’s they were forcibly moved West of the Mississippi, mostly to Oklahoma.  About 200 Seminoles remained in Florida, and they have since had many lawsuits over land and have had a continued presence in Florida.  In the 1920’s they were introduced to the sewing machine in Florida, and that is when they invented the Seminole Patchwork technique, because of its efficiency for pattern making with the sewing machine.  This history amplifies the transient nature of maps, countries, and clusters of human population.
   My hope is that the work allows the viewer to contemplate place, the nature of a map, and the way a map differs from the actual sight of that same location when seeing it from above.  We draw visible lines in the Earth all the time with roads, and draw invisible lines on the Earth with maps and latitude/longitude lines.  It is only very recently that the Earth has begun to glow at night.  Just 200 years ago, without the light from homes and roads, the scene would have been very dark. 
   I like that the images depicted are beautiful, and fill me with awe.  I like that they depict scenes that are ever changing.  This reminds me of reading Proust, that we experience many selves in a lifetime, and even in a day.  Chicago is named the second city because the first was burnt down in a fire.  Between 2005 and 2015 I have witnessed countless changes in Chicago- it is a new city every day.  How does that idea show up in my art? I piece improvisationally.  This means that I don’t use a grid, specific plan, or even stick to a particular source image.  I sew areas of patchwork together and then pin them to my design wall.  I arrange the pieces together as I go.  I studied Jazz and Blues Aesthetics at SAIC, and I’ve researched a great deal about African American Quilting.  I see the evolution of cites, and the geography of the planet as an improvisational patchwork as well- we are constantly co-creating the way our world looks from above.

    One of my favorite qualities of quilting is that the resulting image is layered.  The fabric, piecing of the fabric, and quilting each tell a story.  It creates the opportunity tell many stories, and show a complex image to the viewer.  I quilt using Japanese Sashiko style stitches.  I use the technique because the large stitches can be seen.  The traditional Western stitch is ideally so small and regular that it looks ‘as good as if a machine did it.’  I prefer the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi.  The perfect mistake.  Sashiko quilting is sill usually very regular, organized, and they draw a template on the fabric to follow.  I also quilt improvisationally, meaning that I sew without lines to follow, and allow myself to create the quilted pattern in the moment.
   The night flight series is my only exception to that.  I use tape to follow as I quilt so that I maintain horizontal lines across the surface.  These lines represent latitude, an invisible set of lines that we have drawn on the Earth to aid in navigation.  Still, they waver in places- it is a nod to the hand, and like a bit of occasional static in a television screen- a reminder that they are invisible.

    The fabric is another key element for creating meaning in the work.  In #2 I found three dye lots of the same navy blue fabric.  These three subtle variations work together to create complexity in the large expanses of darkness- they activate the negative space.  In #3 I used black fabric instead of navy.  When composing the lights, I included fabric from two vintage dresses, likely from the 40’s.  I purchased them in the early 2000’s and used to wear them for special occasions.  In other quilts like ‘Beginners,’ ‘Lots of Cream, Lots of Sugar,’ and ‘Flower Fence,’ I have used vintage tablecloths.  The sourcing of fabrics and the inherent conversation about the transformation over time are important to me in the work, especially as it relates to the Earth itself changing over the same time period. 

    Flight has become a highly structured, rigid, fearful, controlled experience in our post- 9/11 world.  That is not at the forefront of my mind with this work.  It is much more about the joy of flight, and the constant fluctuation of the Earth’s surface.  I am interested that this art might spark conversations about topics like flight control, immigration, border control, light pollution, electricity, and globalization- but it is not at the core of the work.  Similarly, I titled the series after the ‘Night Flight’ novely by Antoine de Saint-Exupery because of the joy he expresses for flight.  While there is a connection to WWII, and his death at sea, it is not my primary focus.  In an age where flying can be a hassle, this series looks to reinvigorate that experience as a reminder of the wonder and excitement inherent in flight.

   Many people who fear flying do so because of the lack of control.  This work is about a lack of control, impermanence, co-creation, living in the moment, and my enjoyment of those things.  When Lisa Walker England wrote about me in her blog recently, she cited ‘freedom’ as a guiding element in my personality and my art.  I do feel free flying, I think it’s absolute magic that I can literally be in the clouds for a while, and then land in ‘another world’ in a days time.  Our planet, and life itself are anything but static or predictable.  The improvisational approach in this series is a nod to the ever-changing qualities of the Earth’s surface.

Night Flight no. 1 and 2 are currently on view in the Charles Allis Art Museum in Milwaukee as a part of the "Threshold" exhibition curated by Niki Johnson.
"Night Flight no. 4"  34x48"

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