My favorite aspect of writing, as discussed in my most recent blog post, is process. Sorting out my thoughts and ideas, writing them down in my notebook, crossing out the awkward parts, replacing words, and adding and subtracting punctuation until I am pleased with the finish product, is what makes writing so rewarding for me.
My favorite part about being an art historian is the ability to make and negotiate connections while looking at objects of visual culture. Studying art helps me make sense of the world, by realizing connections and bridges between things that may, at first, seem very different. If I can borrow the words of artist Alfredo Jaar for a moment, “that’s the magic of art—and i think it’s extraordinary—the power to create connections, make bridges. it fascinates me.” This is a case where someone else’s words describe my thoughts better than I possibly could myself.
My love for the process of writing is very similar to artist Charles LeDray’s love of process in the creation of art, specifically in relation to his recent exhibition at the ICA/Boston, entitled workworkworkworkwork. The exhibition just closed this past Sunday, and is currently being de-installed and packed up for safe travels to the Whitney Museum in New York.
To be honest, I love pretty much everything about LeDray’s work. Born in Seattle in 1960, LeDray’s mother, a seamstress, taught him how to sew when he was just four years old. With no academic artistic training other than working as a security guard at the Seattle Art Museum, LeDray’s work and career are even more impressive.
Fixated on commodity, repetition, and identity, and obsessed with process, LeDray’s works are systematic and powerful. Hand throwing thousands of tiny ceramic and porcelain pots (over 8,000 in this exhibition alone), hand sewn miniature clothing, delicately carved human bone – at the most superficial level LeDray’s pieces are impressive based on sheer skill alone.
LeDray’s work, however, is anything but superficial. His pieces raise questions about gender identity, work and process, and loss. Traditionally considered “women’s work,” sewing is usually considered more of a craft than an art. LeDray challenges this traditional notion, as he is a male artist who uses sewn textiles as his most prominent medium. Overcoat, a piece that consists of a and sewn, navy blue miniature men’s overcoat stuffed with even tinier male and female clothes makes a commentary on gender identity and the sometimes blurred line between male and female, a false binary.
LeDray’s obsession with process and work leads to the dismantling, re-appropriating, and re-creating of objects. A piece entitled Small Suit made from Larger Suit, LeDray created a hand-sewn miniature plaid suit, complete with jacket, dress shirt, tie, and slacks. He then cut out from this suit the pattern for a miniature suit, which he sewed hanging off the right arm of the larger suit. He went as far as to punch out tiny, pin head sized, pieces of the larger suit’s buttons for the smaller suit.
Several macabre pieces carved from human bone illuminate the permanence of some aspects of the physical human body versus the average human lifespan. One piece, a miniature orrery, a mechanism used by the ancient Greeks to track the alignment of the planets in the solar system, reiterates the discrepancy and relativity of time and space.
One of the most moving and beautiful pieces, in my opinion, is the muted gay pride flag, entitled Pride Flag. This piece makes a harsh but realistic commentary on the politics surrounding gay rights. Many times, just as changes are being made, something happens to set back the progress. This is illustrated by the muted colors of the traditionally bright and vibrant gay pride flag. With miniature gray, white, and black men and women’s clothing sewn to the sides of the flag, the lives lost during the AIDS crisis are remembered.
The human body is not present in the exhibit, not even in miniature form. On display are only the objects that people use and/or wear. The absence of people, of the physical body, creates an eerie lack, an absence that makes the viewer long for the things, the people that are no longer physically here. The piece that conveyed this feeling the most for me, and that I could relate to the easiest was the work called Hall Tree. This piece includes a miniature coat tree, fabricated by the artist, with miniature hand-sewn coats hanging on the hooks. This piece reminds me of the death of my mother, and how things just sort of sat in places, as she had left them, until we were finally forced to move them; something that we put off for as long as possible, as them staying where they were was a reminder of her and the way things were when she was alive.
The miniature objects remind the viewer of doll clothes, of childhood, of the past. Though they appear at first glance to be innocuous and perhaps even a bit cute, these pieces are the symbols of the untold, silenced stories of the past, of the people who are no longer able to tell them.