WYLIE SOPHIA GARCIA
Describe your first experience with fabric and sewing? Is it a distinct memory that influenced and informed your creative practice today?
My first experience with fabric and sewing came from an Ann Hamilton Exhibition titled “Kaph” at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston http://www.annhamiltonstudio.com/projects/kaph.html. I was seventeen. It was the first time I walked into an installation and felt like it sucker punched me in the gut. She had made these curved walls that were sweating water and leading you like a cow to the slaughter. There was a lone trapeze squeaking overhead making the whole journey through the space very anxious. Finally, when I turned the last curve there was a woman sitting with a embroidered silk gloves and a seam ripper. The woman was ripping apart the embroidery and it was in that moment that the anxiety within me released. I don’t know what it was about that act, about what it was intended to symbolize, but I related to it. I went back and saw that installation ten more times.
When I think about how this memory has influenced my creative practice I can’t say that there is a direct connection, like a literal connection. It is more of a metaphysical connection; like how an action as simple as seam ripping embroidery on a silk glove can singly deflate the enormity of an overbearing experience. I think of my art as a symbol or metaphor for experience. In 2013 I had the opportunity to see a textile inspired exhibit called “SPUN”at the Denver Art Museum. Ann Hamilton’s silk gloves from “Kaph” were there on display. I cried. It was the first time I have ever been moved to tears by a work of art and not because of the art itself, but because of the experience it conjured up.
Is sewing ( hand or machine) therapeutic, contemplative, a break for you from bustling busy life?
No. It’s a full contact sport. It is contemplative, but more of a combative contemplative battle of wills between what my brains want to do and what my hands want to do and what the fabric wants me to do.
Your fabrics are like differing terrain or territories that you journey over and through with thread by hand, is this kind of mark making reflective of where you live in Vermont or other places in any way or are you following a particular concept and technique to achieve an effect? Explain
I have lived in Burlington, Vermont for 11 years. I grew up in Houston, Texas. Both of these places have very specific terrains that are so unlike the other. I have no idea if the Vermont or Texas landscapes are playing a role in my art, but only because I don’t pay attention to the place itself as much as the people in it. There is this Kant quote that has permeated my personal philosophy since college. “Human beings are not placed, they bring place into being.” I used to think of that as meaning that human beings ascribe meaning to objects to make them create a place of familiarity. But now as I am older I realize it’s not about the objects, but about the people; people make places familiar, comfortable, home.
How does this relate to my mark making? Well, when I am sewing I like to think about the people I know. Those memories or conversations are what drive the “terrain” like mark making. I may set off in one direction but change course, much like a conversation.
Can you elaborate on the specific kinds of historic textile techniques that you use in your installations and dresses?
Yes. I use a lot of trapunto which is a traditional quilting technique. Trapunto was intended as a way to create a decorative raised surface in quilting. It involves stitching a design and stuffing it with fiber fill. The master trapunto crafts folk could do this without making an incision on the back side for stuffing. They would simply make a hole in the fabric by moving the threads out of the way and moving them back. I make an incision.
Land and the female form appear to be significant in your dresses, sometimes taking the viewer into a visceral, vascular, cellular realm as well as a topographical mapping of land patterns. Is there a relationship you are intentionally constructing that speaks to this in the underpinnings of your work? Can you illuminate what this might be?
The female body is very visceral by design. It bleeds, It makes milk, it secretes fluids. It is given organs that make life, support life, spark life, and seduce life. It is fascinating in all the shapes it can transform into and from, again and again as it reinvents itself physically through age and time. I am a new mother, again. And I approach this question from my own experience of having a body that has a mapped landscape of motherhood, stretchmarks, sags, pucks,and bulges. The female body is a powerful landscape, not always beautiful or stoic. It is an expression of change and comfort; a duality of strength and softness. It is also biology, a collection of cells and information strung together to make us human, gendered, and a tangle of neurological information. This information is also interesting to me. Alongside the physical is the psychological which may or may not be born out of the physical (depending on what you believe spiritually), and I kind of sit in the middle of this in between place and hang out drawing inspiration.
How do you find your materials? are they found? have personal significance? bought specifically around the concepts of your individual dresses?
My materials come from all over the place. I usually use what is donated to me or what I have personally in my own fabric collection or closet. I no longer buy materials because I feel like I am more interested in the story old materials can tell. Also the textile industry is very damaging to our environment. Also, as a mother and half of a struggling artist duo (my husband, Clark Derbes http://www.clarkderbes.com is also an artist) I try to be as fiscally responsible as possible to my family and not overspend on art supplies. Also, I have a lot of clothes and when I feel that it is time to purge those clothes, they just get made into art, much like the Amish quilters or Gees Bend Quilters http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quilts_of_Gee’s_Bend or old New England Braided Rugs… I think there is a whole historical concept of recycling clothes into something practical, beautiful and meaningful.
Your dresses feel as though they are characters, have roots with specific stories or people in your life, can you describe the relationship between your titles and female materiality?
The titles come as the dress is being made. When I did “The Dress That Makes The Woman Project” where I worked on and wore the same dress everyday for a month and then, in turn, did so for a year yielding 12 dresses, each dress embodied a certain persona by the end of each month. So I tried to make the name reflect the personality. An example of this is the dress “Cupcake” http://www.wyliegarcia.com/#!Cupcake/zoom/c1k7w/image1u6i. Every time I put the dress on I felt like a confection. I also have to admit to referring to my dresses as individuals. I give them pronouns such as “she” and “her.” They feel like specific people to me, especially when I am exhibiting a bunch of them in one space. Then it feels like I am in a room full of my split personalities; it can be overwhelming at times and other times really funny, like being at a party or fancy social gathering.
How did you arrive at your signature style of staccato mark making, by accident or exploration to then choice?
It happened by accident. I was working on my first dress for the Seven Below Residency here in Vermont. I was under deadline to finish the piece because I wanted to display it for my MFA Thesis Show in Provincetown, MA. I had a lot of ground to cover and needed to do so quickly and efficiently, so I just started sewing in these rows, which became patches, which would then switch direction when I became bored of the repetition. When I was done it was like an “aha” moment for me.
How do you see the role of the artist today?
I have no idea how to even begin to answer this question. I don’t think artists have a role anymore in the traditional sense of internalizing an aspect of the world and translating it into something aesthetic. I don’t even know if they have the same responsibilities we once associated with being an artist. Artists make art. Some times it is beautiful, sometimes grotesque, sublime, interactive, clever, political, and easy. I find myself asking this question a lot though: why do I make art? And I still don’t have an answer.
What strategies do you use in your practice that keep you on track?
Discipline and Rhythm. I work every day if I am able. As the seasons change so do my priorites. When it’s December it’s time to look at residency applications. In the spring I book shows. In the summer I work work work. In the fall I exhibit and brainstorm new ideas. In the winter I research and work work work. Having kids makes it easy to work, I get to work soon as I have an hour or so to spare and immediately after bedtime.
You perform in your garments thus appearing to be the subject of your work – is it important that you are the content or are you a vehicle for the ideas behind these performances?
Yes, it is important that I am a part of the content and context of the work, especially in performances. My art is personal. There may be times when certain tropes can be universalized, but I am primarily telling a narrative from my own point of view and I just don’t trust a stranger or performer or actor to tell my story in the same way I would. I once hired a group of people to help me with stitching. They did an amazing job at helping me finish a huge installation, but since the mark making is not my own, I felt like there were parts of the overall piece that stood out. Never underestimate the visual power of one’s own faulty mark making.
Your 2D works remind me of a state of betwixt and between where veils of semi transparent materials hide in lurking spaces, paths and shadows form in a layering effect, which brings about a real state of impermanence or ambiguous temporality. Can you illuminate the trajectory of your new staccato works?
When I set out to make these works I knew that I wanted to shift from working with just the veneer or surface of the material. I wanted the work to have a greater depth of vision and a saturated quality that really makes an audience spend time with it and look at all of the different layers. I was also feeling ready for a pause with working in fabric. I am still using fabric and layers as a theme, but using gouache and ink and graphite upon wooden panels instead. As a surface, the wood has a feel similar to fabric and has the possibility to create great depth and layers. As for a trajectory for the new works, that is hard to say because it is all still so new to me. I can tell you what has changed and that is showing the work. The fabric pieces were primarily shown in museums, art centers, and academic institutions. The Ink Drawings are now finding homes in galleries and then in turn finding homes in homes of collectors.
Does your 2D practice inform your garment constructions or performances? or are they separate?
They are related. I make copious notes and drawings in notebooks and on the backs of envelopes or on scraps of paper about future ideas or about current motifs I want to further explore. Sometimes a drawing brings about the creation of a dress and sometimes a dress gets deconstructed into a drawing. Regardless, it is all about the fabric and the way it moves and flows, whether in real space or as part of a 2D surface.
Are there particular historical or contemporary female figures that inspire work?
Helen Miranda Wilson
Kelli Scott Kelley
These are all contemporary hard working women who keep pushing boundaries. I happen to know each of them and I am inspired by the ways in which they tell a story, play with the boundaries of image making and space/place making, as well as have the ability to make their audience “dig deep” when viewing their work.
All images are the property of Wylie Sophia Garcia. For more info visit Wylie at http://www.wyliegarcia.com