Kimberly English is a fibers artist who just received her MFA from North Carolina Chapel Hill. She works with the idea of fiber as a means of relating to a larger history of the invisible labor women placed into working with fabric. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:
- Object: A finished product. It has a sense of mass and form.
- Item: Connotes something sterile or serial. The term brings to mind numbers and inventory; a product of capitalism. Object and item tend be used interchangeably, but with emphasis placed on item as a utilitarian concept.
- Material: Preface to a resolution; unquantifiable.
Fibers, and the things that they create, are ingrained into our history. Flax fibers, that are 34,000 years old, were discovered in 2009 in a cave in the Republic of Georgia; making them the oldest example of fibers used by humans (this is not to say that fibers may have been used before this, but due to the organic nature of the fibers, they most likely deteriorate over time). Synthetic fibers were a product of industrialisation; a means of keeping up with consumer demands. Fabric was a way to protect oneself from the elements, and it become a way to show status. It also became associated with women. Women worked with fibers to create many things, and the practice of weaving become understood as ‘women’s work’. But, while it became associated with women, the actual women behind the labor became invisible.
Getting the spots out (detail)
Kimberly was first introduced to fabric when her mother taught her to sew at a young age. She practiced by sewing buttons onto old diaper cloth, while her mother watched. Her grandmother would look through children’s fashions magazines with her, talking with her about the clothing, and then would purchase an outfit for her birthday. Both of these moments encouraged and fostered Kimberly’s exploration into the sartorial.
Kimberly’s work speaks to hours of intensive labor that are placed into fabric. Her work wants viewers to engage with how women, who have historically been the ones to work with fabric, are the invisible force behind the material individuals wear. During our interview, Kimberly discussed how in the past, women would sit in groups, tell stories and weave together. It was a moment of bonding, but also a moment that came to symbolize the lineage of working with fibers: the stories told together were passed down, along with the tools of how to work with fabric. While the process of creation may have been passed down, the figures behind the garments people wear, or the fabrics they utilize on a daily basis, disappear. They become forgotten. The labor of the women that worked on the garments goes to the wayside as individuals look at the finished product. Kimberly utilizes the process of deconstruction: undoing what has already been done. Through unraveling the material that makes up the entire item, the process of creation is revealed. The amount of time it took to construct the garment, the various hands that may have touched the piece, and all of the details that went into the piece come forth through this process of deconstruction.
Love is install and detail
In her series titled over/under, Kimberly asks the viewer to ponder how does the deconstruction of garments reflect the body and its relation to capitalism. In her piece Getting the Spot Out, a large white sheet is hung on a wall. The surface is spotted with little polka-dots that have been cut into the fabric. In the left hand corner of the piece, a single, red dot pops out among the empty dots. In this interplay of empty spaces on a white sheet, and leaving a single red dot, Kimberly explores the relationship between a capitalist structure and the body. The areas of white can be understood to be the producer, a sort of space on which consumers make the their mark. The red dots, in this regard, are the consumers. The spots come to represent the body: the red is reflective of menstrual blood, sex, and the overall concept of the domestic. The fact that the single red dot remains is a symbol of power. It is a message of hope in a sea that is overrun by capitalism. While the spots that have been removed are a meditative study on the removal of the body in labor in the mind of the modern consumer, the single red dot makes the viewer aware of this. In her piece Love Is, also part of over/under, the outline of a shirt remains. The outer hem is the skeleton: all the other fabric that made up the shirt is now gone. But, attached to the hem, are a few price tags. These track the many places the shirt has been, and how its value has diminished over time. It comes to represent how the value of the work, over time, has deteriorated; the price continues to go down. The work that was put into the piece has been completely neglected. The price goes down, and no one acknowledges the labor that was placed into it. The red fabric comes to represent the body that would inhabit the piece along with the person that made the work.
Speaking with Kimberly and seeing her work that discusses the idea of deconstruction to understand construction and the bodies that help to produce, asks the question: what is an object’s beginning? Kimberly’s work helps to me ponder how objects having a beginning (and an end. But who defines this?), and the idea of a body behind work. Thinking about Julia Arredono’s practice, that explores the structure of production from the artist and the way it works within capitalism, and Kimberly’s exploration of the invisible labor of women/other bodies, I have been thinking about the other person/people in an object’s creation/distribution/use. An object may end up in my hands, but it had to pass through others. It became embedded with their feelings towards it, their memories with it, and their thoughts. The object may have traveled far to end up with me, and it becomes part of a larger network of relations. And I think it is important to always consider this: that there is another person behind something. The object may be embedded with meaning for yourself, but itself is on a journey. It has a beginning, and an (possible) end, and in between, there was another individual helping it along the way.
Getting the Spots Out
Next up // July 1st: Artist Spotlight - Megan Cline