The premise of the exhibit will be familiar to anyone who has belonged to a fiber guild: the "challenge project" inviting members to work within a particular set of parameters. In guilds this may take the form of using a specific fabric, yarn, palette, technique or theme to make a piece. These challenges offer a way for guild members to stretch their skills and to see how different makers may interpret the same assignment. Sometimes there are prizes to provide a little extra motivation!
In the case of the Box Project, textiles collector Lloyd Cotsen invited 36 artists to make fiber work specifically to fit inside a box that measured 14" x 14" x 3" or 14" x 23" x 3". In effect, he was challenging artists to think "outside the box" by working inside it. The term fiber was loosely defined and ultimately included materials such as plastic tubing, copper wire, paper, buttons, beads, and spools of thread.
The exhibit offers a fascinating peek inside the artists' creative process. Correspondence between artists and Cotsen or his textiles curator, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (d. 2011), is on display, along with small samples and sketches that show the artists' developing ideas for the project. Many of the artists are represented not only by their box pieces but also by several larger works more typical of their usual practice. It was interesting to see how artists adapted their usual style of working to the new smaller format.
Here are a few images from the show that captured my attention.
|Helena Hernmarck, Color Triptyk, 2005|
for The Box Project
|Helena Hernmarck, Homage to Mary Kahlenberg, 2012.|
wool and flax woven with strips from sequin manufacturing
Shibori artist Ana Lisa Hedstrom had this insight:
Making a piece to fit inside the box was harder than it should have been. . . .When something is very large, there is a certain impact, which is why so many fibers artists work in a huge scale. There is a certain "wow" factor. . . .The miniature has to encourage the viewer to spend some time with it. It can't be too complex; the statement you are making is like a haiku: it has brevity but it has to come together. But it can't be so simple that it's like you shrugged your shoulders.
|Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Fissures, 2005.|
hand-pleated shibori-dyed silk
Embroidery artist Mary Bero, whose embroidered faces are typically quite small, chose to subdivide the box even further to make a collection or "compendium" representing the whole range of her artistic production over the years.
|Mary Bero, Compendium, 2012-13|
cotton cloth, linen cord, paper, silk and cotton thread, spools, metal wire,
pins and embroidery mounted in a wood box painted with acrylic paint
Like Hedstrom, John Garrett found the constraints of the small format difficult, saying "When I have a larger format to work with, there is more room to make something compelling." It seems to me he succeeded in making visually exciting work on both scales.
|John Garrett, Untitled, The Box Project|
woven copper wire mesh with plastic, shells, buttons, beads, bells
and metal washers attached with waxed linen cord
|John Garrett, no info available (apologies)|
Virginia Davis did not feel constrained by the box format, saying:
I'm very much into reflections and images that bounce back and forth. So the title of this piece is Bounded by a Nutshell, that is from Hamlet: 'I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.' The whole piece is reflecting back and forth yet you're bound in a box, though it's not restricting you. When you're in a box, you're bounded by a nutshell.
|Virginia Davis, Bounded by a Nutshell, 2004|
linen painted with acrylic pigment and woven in double ikat;
holographic and handmade paper; handmade clamshell box
As for me, I enjoy giving myself certain limits or parameters to start with when I begin a project. What about you? Would you find working within a small box format limiting, or freeing?