SPENDING THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS hand sewing moth cocoons has encouraged me to think about transformation. "I want change in my life," I hear people say all the time, or "There's change coming," they'll observe. These are hopeful thoughts usually said with an eye toward a better future, and I'm as susceptible to them as anyone. Everything does eventually change so why not welcome it, even seek it out?
In Sayaka Murata's latest novel, "Earthlings," she has some vivid descriptions of how silk moth breeders allow their entire homes to be overtaken by the larvae they raise. Mats are pulled up off the floor, and mulberry leaves are scattered everywhere as the silkworms transform these human domiciles into their own nest-like domains. Everything in these people's lives is in service of change. It's a radical commitment, for which they are getting paid. And don't so many of us make daily changes with the hope or belief that we'll get a better job as a result, or find a more interesting/attractive/richer mate, or that we'll make more money, thereby enabling even more change, often of the material kind? Sometimes the hoped for change is more noble: we're working toward a cure for some disease, or to deepen our soul. No matter the outcome, a constant fixation on change generally leaves us feeling as though our present condition is inadequate.
What if change were not the problem, but the fact that change too often takes us away from the here and now? What if our focus could be on the moment in front of us, in all its intriguing particularities? Instead of trying to get away from where we happen to be, we sink into it. As soon as I began to think about this, there was an interesting shift in my awareness: so many things around me moved from the background to the foreground, and moments that had been rushing passed slowed down. A torn and weathered poster on the side of a building had the most gorgeous colors (above left); a home security camera dangling from a roof appeared to me like a large eye (above right). I'm not a photographer, but I pulled out my camera anyway and started taking pictures of all sorts of items. I used a special app to change/blur each item, not for the sake of change, or to get to some future place, but to more closely draw viewers' attention to the items themselves, to highlight the qualities of these things that all of us step over and around every day. Not surprisingly, taking these photos changed me: it taught me to look at the world so differently. But that difference has not moved me away from the moment, but helped me to stay right where I am, for at least a little longer, seeing more than I ever imagined was there.
WHERE DOES AN ARTWORK BEGIN? Certainly not with the first brush stroke or that initial whack with a chisel; even searching further back--to when materials were gathered together with hope and intent--is not going far enough. Ideas, feelings, impressions, knowledge, experience, research, memories, sensations...they move through us like vectors of light, their stray particles clinging, drifting down, settling, waiting.
Sitting at my desk, I hear music from outside and instantly a day from ages ago (was I seven or eight?!) rushes back and there's an image of a white and green tent and a schoolyard and a game being played, maybe I'd even won a prize, and then I'm walking home and the light on the cathedral of trees is dribbled honey and I clutch at my paper bag.
The piece I recently completed (Shedding All That, II, 2020, 35" x 14" X 9"; Ceranchia apollina (Apollo silk moth cocoons from Madagascar), with linen covered wire), echoes my long-held curiosity with mummies, bog people, chrysalises (and transformations of all kinds), but also a fear of constriction, the suffocating limits I may never push passed, and of death. But I sensed while sewing that this piece was about so much more than all that and I was muted by my lack of clarity, by the swirl of it all inside, tiny wings beating furiously, searching for a new opening not even I could see.