Mandy Greer: Suspending Disbelief Part II

Dear Readers,

Yesterday, I introduced you to the fabulous fiber installation artist, Mandy Greer. She is so fabulous, that I needed two blog posts to tell you about her!

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Sometimes her work takes on the form of site-specific installation environments, sometimes intricate costumes, sometimes both.

Greer’s work resists easy categorization: It’s fiber art but also encompasses performance art, photography, ceramics and other media. She uses not so much paints and brushes, but a sewing machine and crochet hook, weaving and twisting bits of fabric and yarn into magical forests, mythical creatures, fanciful garments, darkly disturbing images. Much of her art, particularly in recent years, is constructed primarily from simple chains of crocheting; that humble process many of us learned as children, of softly pushing a hook through a loop of yarn, over and over and over. (Moira Macdonald for the Seattle Times)

Mater Matrix Mother and Medium 2009

I think one of the most fantastic aspects of this site specific installation, is that Greer got her community involved. She taught mini crochet workshops. People learned the basics of crochet, and their products from the workshops became part of the installation/performance. Check out this classroom visit:

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Mandy is such a true maker, in the sense that her work is so physically laborious. At the same time, it addresses what it means to make something as an artist, but also how you make something as a community. She takes this word ‘make,’ and takes it out of the art world. (Jess Van Nostrand, founder of Project Room)

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“As the mother of a son, I thought it was so ridiculous, saying blue is for boys. I started to think about fiber in the same way.” (Greer)

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We sat on blankets around the water, and Smurfy blue horns oriented us towards the creature that was Zoe Scofield. She was a heap of blue knots, and then she was an animal, connected to the blue knotted stream that rose up through the trees. I’d say, characters included: the music (warbly, organic, nostalgic, elfin), the creature, the pond (amazingly still), the earth (striking shades of brown), the trees (lit perfect by summer evening sky), the blue knot stream. All of the characters were connected, caught in a web together that breathed naturally. Zoe Scofield is nothing short of amazing. Really. At times I would remember that this was a body, a person, with muscles and sinews; and at times there was this new creation with legs that behaved like arms; with toes that had eyes. She dredged up rock knot pods from the pond. (Susanna Bluhm)

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Greer made her way to Seattle and enrolled in the ceramics program at the University of Washington, earning an MFA in 1999. But she was, she says, tired of clay and its limitations. “Working in only one medium just didn’t make any sense,” she says, remembering her excitement as she discovered the work of multidisciplinary artists on the local and national scene. One day in the studio, she tried painting a ceramic form with latex, peeling it off, then stitching the resultant rubbery pieces together. Next came “pulling clothes out of my closet and taking them apart and sewing them around the forms,” intoxicated by the immediacy of a process that didn’t require machines and painting and glazing. She remembered her childhood love of sewing, and “it was a light-bulb moment” — an artist, finding her niche. (Moira Macdonald for the Seattle Times)

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Honey and Lightening 2011

Mandy Greer’s enchanting works make you feel as if you’re in a fairy tale, and are simply to intricate and elaborate to describe with simple words. It’s as if the closing scene of the film Pan’s Labyrinth had a baby with Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over” music video. (Art Nouveau)

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I stumble upon mythology that speaks to the struggle (Greer)

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There is an inherent delicacy in textile work – one that Greer both embraces and contradicts. In her works, haunting vignettes of half-told stories are littered with crocheted entrails and vines of thick, cloying mud that evoke a sense of elegant foreboding. They deal with a sense of vague narrative that, through abstraction, finds archetype; her installations whisper of timelessness – of a buried, invisible power that runs below the surface of the world that we cavalierly inhabit. (Tessa Hulls)

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Finally, I want to leave you with an exerpt from an article written by Tessa Hulls for Redefine Mag regarding Greer and Feminism:

During the course of our conversation, Greer and I end up embarking on a long tangent about feminism. Being a female fiber artist necessitates the discussion of gender roles, and Greer has spent a great deal of time mulling over the relationship between her gender and the traditionally feminine associations of her medium.

“The nature of my work means that I get co-opted into a lot of conversations about feminism,” she tells me in the firm voice of someone who has learned to be strongly opinionated without coming across as aggressive. In describing her technique, Greer explains that she sews and crochets “like a bachelor,” and that she deliberately maintains a rough-hewn technique in a refusal to be pigeonholed by the handcrafted element of her work. There is a ferocity to Greer’s construction that stubbornly demands the acknowledgement of the masculine element of handwork.

“It’s interesting when men sew,” Greer tells me. “It’s not anything new. [My husband] Paul, as a man who sews, has a personal research project, and has always been drawn to learning about historical evidence of men sewing. In the Civil War, [in] convalescent homes for injured soldiers – they made quilts. Sailors have always been big sewers, knitters, crocheters, knotters… Handwork is not something that needs to be inherently feminine, and I like that idea.”

Greer often finds herself frustrated by what she sees as the “dude art” scene of the Northwest –- hot shot young male artists who achieve rapid success by “messing around with building materials”– and she wishes that there could be a more egalitarian discussion of implicitly gender-charged mediums. She tells me of a female friend who paints flowers, and how there would be a “different level of impact” if the same work were to be created by a male artist.

She pauses, trying to find the right words to express the subtle distinctions between the feminist connotations of her medium, and her own personal relationship to feminism. “The tactile quality of what I’m after,” she explains deliberately. “It’s about what it is to have a body, to have skin. But I am a woman in the 21st century, and it’s inescapable to talk about my own feminism.” For Greer, she sees her feminism as being expressed through the themes and archetypes that she chooses to explore, and has been frustrated in the past by what she sees as the art world’s insistence that her art is feminist simply because it’s handwork.

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