Thursday, June 7, 2012

Concept to Collaboration : Hommage to Bruno Schulz

Last Thursday the finished piece to result from the Concept to Collaboration project was displayed at the Fowler Museum of Art at UCLA for Fowler Out Loud. Now that it's finished, I can explain the project in its entirety.

This spring, I was invited by the Fowler Museum of Art to develop an activity for UCLA students in conjunction with the current exhibition: Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women. (The title of the show is a nod to how Boetti often signed his works as they were embroidered by hundreds of Afghan women over many years.) Boetti viewed these works ultimately as collaborations, owing to the unpredictable decisions made by the stitchers (unexpected color choices, words added in their own language), all of which contributed to the finished piece. The works heavily incorporate wordplay, poetry and the puzzling configuration of words and phrases.

Concept to Collaboration was designed as an exercise to show students how artists sometimes engage others in the creation of their works, and I wanted to reflect Boetti's use of wordplay. To create the piece, participants were invited to write words (selected at random from a box) onto a piece of fabric, along with instructions for how to write the words (small, large, backwards, vertically). Once the word was transcribed, it was given to an embroiderer to stitch.

As everyone who worked on the piece knows, I did not disclose what we were stitching. And there was a lot of curiosity and guessing. Random words? A poem? A controversial political statement?

I had chosen my favorite literary passage from The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. I wrote a brief entry on Schulz a few years ago for another blog, and the full passage that is embroidered on the Concept to Collaboration piece is linked below. It struck me afterward that the finished piece has the colorful look of an elementary-school project, with rainbow colors and playful embellishments introduced by the stitchers. But the passage, unknown to the collaborators, is sweetly contrary to the aesthetic outcome.

For me, this was a new experience. I had never worked with a group in this way before, and I was genuinely surprised at the amount of work and personal creativity everyone put into it. While many had traveled to work on the piece, and were unable to attend the one night of its display, I will announce any other opportunities to see the work in person.

Because I'd like to show every word that was stitched, I am going to post the entire passage, word by word to instagram (@sublimestitching) today. All of the words will also be viewable online here.

I want to express my heartfelt and sincere gratitude to all of those who participated in the project. Many thanks to Devon Iott who did a masterful job of sewing all the separately stitched words into one, large piece. And sincere thanks to the Fowler Museum of Art and its wonderful staff, for involving me in this exhibition. It has been a deeply educational and rewarding experience for me.

Related links:
Excerpt from The Street of Crocodiles (1934) by Bruno Schulz
Randi Malkin Steinberger - Pt. 1
Concept to Collaboration list of participants 
Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women