Andrea Love (previously) cooks up some treats just in time for the summer heat, although their woolen ingredients might make them less thirst-quenching than usual. From her miniature kitchen, Love films short stop-motion animations that show her squirting spools of juice to make lemonade or coating heaps of ice cream with a thin line of chocolate yarn. The refreshing snacks are the latest in the animator and fiber artist’s archive of felted fare, which you can watch on YouTube and Instagram. (via The Kids Should See This)
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In her salient text, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, scholar Christina Sharpe delves into the multiple definitions of “wake,” which span from “the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, (to) coming to consciousness.” “In the wake,” Sharpe writes, “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.” Largely focused on conversations around anti-Blackness and continued violence, the book is rooted in the afterlife of slavery and what sentiments, practices, and memories linger into the current moment, questions that similarly ground the work of artist Nastassja Swift.
Through fiber-based figures often arranged in large gatherings, Swift explores various narratives tied to Blackness, particularly those that relate to water and ancestral presences. “I’m interested in taking those things as starting points and imaging a space or happening that involves my sculpture and allows me to think through a hypothetical rooted in that memory or history,” the Virginia-based artist says. She derives these stories from texts like Sharpe’s, discussions with friends, and in one instance, a conversation with an older Black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.
While there are multiple narrative threads in each of her pieces, Swift doesn’t strive to disclose each one, preferring explicit gaps in the connections. “I love knowing that there’s more to what’s being made and imagining other characters or continued happenings around what’s being made,” she says. “That’s not something I’m attempting to convey, rather information that I’m okay not sharing.”
Many of the faces evoke imagined subjects, not relatives Swift has met or seen in photographs, but rather somewhat of “an ancestral presence that allows my hands to make the face in any particular moment without my mind being aware of it.” She always begins with the supple shape of the face and then sculpts the facial details and hair from dyed wool and felt, a process that’s intimate and that’s evolved with two more recent works.
“With ‘Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back’ (2021) and ‘Your Banks are Red Honey Where the Moon Wanders-Self Portrait’ (2020), everything changed,” Swift says, describing the shift in the process to that of a ritual. The first of these two works, “Passage,” is a bubblegum pink figure sporting a collar marked with smaller heads arranged in a gradient. Long braids descend down the torso and pool on the floor. Second is Swift’s self-portrait, which features a calm face shaped in deep red wool that’s silhouetted by braids and figurative tendrils. Both interpret specific subjects as West African masks and sculptural forms in order to question “what it means to worship someone, and how that word could be reshaped to allow us to honor those around us,” the artist says.
Swift will have a satellite exhibition titled Canaan: when I read your letter, I feel your voice at the Contemporary Arts Network in Newport News from June 5 to July 3, 2021. Thanks to the Art as Activism Grant from the Black Box Press Foundation, the pieces will then travel for a stay at the Galveston Arts Center. The artist sells some felted dolls and other goods in her shop, and head to Instagram for glimpses into her studio and a larger collection of her sculptures.
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Nicole Havekost describes her towering figures as exhibiting the contradiction of “sublime embarrassment… Bodies are magical and glorious and gross and bewildering. Bodies are civilized and feral.” Through hand-sewn sculptures, the Rochester-based artist explores the ways aging affects peoples’ figures and the emotional process of adjusting to a new reality.
She stitches large anthropomorphic works from industrial felt, shaping bodies that are bulging and covered with knots and uneven seams that serve as a reminder of restoration. Havekost explains:
These are the visible representations of the making and mending, repairing and refinishing, we are engaged in as human beings on a daily basis. It shows where we have been and marks where we are going. My figures show their imperfect repairs outwardly, unlike most of us who put on our best public faces. As I have aged, I have become more of a partner to my body. To have a body and accept its imperfections is a privilege and that is what I continue to explore in my work.
Coupled with the varying stitches are the figures’ loping movements and gestures: they lean against the wall, slouch on the floor, and stretch stiff limbs, exposing their “lived-in bodies. They are soft but hold their shape and are in poses open to nurturing and comfort though they have already given so much. They are protectors that need protection,” the artist says.
Although much of Havekost’s work centers on smaller creatures, this collection is monumental in scale and a natural progression from the doll-sized pieces she’s made previously. The nondescript works loom within the 18-foot gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where they’re currently on view through June 26, 2021. “The idea of these figures really owning the space, of the audience having to adjust to their size and presence is what really drove the increased scale and bulk of the pieces. I owed it to the figures to let them be as big as they needed to be,” she says.
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Adorable, cheery, and slightly dazed, this eccentric ensemble of miniatures is the latest from Moscow-based crafter Natasya Shuljak (previously). Made from raw fibers felted together, the expressive characters are imbued with whimsy and play. Flower petals sprout from ambiguous creatures, while other pudgy animals emit a calm and joyful air.
Because Shuljak’s style of dry felting emerged in recent years, she shares that her current preoccupation is with finding new ways to create without the help of tradition. “There is a lot of abstract in my work, and I want to enhance this feeling,” she says, noting that she might seek inspiration in other art forms like sculpture and architecture. “These spheres are united by expressive language: the character of the line, rhythm, texture, color, etc.”
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Although Lucy Sparrow is adept at treating scrapes and bouts of indigestion, her medical specialty lies in helping folks suffering from heart disease, IBS, and various illnesses caused by fiber deficiencies. The U.K.-based artist set up shop with The Bourdon Street Chemist, a fully-stocked, woolen pharmacy that’ll open its doors on January 18, 2021, at London’s Lyndsey Ingram. Over-the-counter medications like plush bottles of Pepto Bismol, Tums, and aspirin line the shelves alongside creams and luxury fragrances.
Sparrow’s medical practice, though, expands beyond the drug store with an entire surgical unit for more severe injuries and illnesses in her studio. The retro, tile-lined room is outfitted with traditional operation equipment and a woolen cadaver with compact organs, a skeleton, and even a bleeding heart.
Similar to her previous undertakings that filled bodegas and supermarkets with household goods, Sparrow hand-stitched the entirety of The Bourdon Street Chemist with painstaking precision, not only ensuring a variety of pharmaceuticals are available but also inscribing each tablet and bottle with fabric-paint labels. The artist established this new medical unit after converting a decommissioned ambulance into a “National Felt Service” vehicle and performing a live-felt-surgery at Miami Art Week in 2018.
Anyone who’s binged on Sparrow’s felt potato chips or wooly Sour Patch Kids can pick up a similarly fibrous remedy from the white-coat wearing artist, who stations herself in the large-scale installation. “There is something so intensely intimate in sharing your personal—and often embarrassing—ailments with a stranger. But because that stranger is wearing a white coat you feel safe and trust them with secrets you wouldn’t tell your best friend,” the artist says.
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Rollerskating Poodles and Croissant Characters Form an Adorably Eccentric Cast of Felt Characters by Cat Rabbit
Working out of her studio in Melbourne, textile artist Cat Rabbit (previously) felts a quirky troupe of characters complete with distinctive garb and accessories. A croissant-headed figure dons a striped skirt and floral hat, Pomeranians carry pin cushions on their backs, and four swaggering poodles outfitted with roller skates appear ready to compete in the rink.
Some of the anthropomorphized creatures are particularly personal to the artist, like the blanket-enshrouded toad (shown below) that was inspired by a friend’s love for the children’s series, Frog and Toad. Similarly, the George Eliot-esque pug is a nod to writer Zadie Smith and her pup, Maud, who Cat Rabbit met last year. “I presented it to her when I went up to get my book signed. She was amazing and kind, and when the writer next to her at the table asked me, ’so what is it that you do, actually?’ Zadie immediately said, ‘this, obviously.’ Being validated by your hero! I was on a cloud for months,” she says.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.