Just a quick little note to say how excited I am for this piece to be making a journey across the world to participate in Rooting (India) - The Knowledge Project which brings together artists, activists, and farmers from South Asia and the United States to address the specific challenges faced by farmers and consumers in India as well as in the United States. This “knowledge hub,” shares artistic projects that bring accessible, solution and knowledge based information to agricultural concerns to create a public forum that generates public awareness, discussion, participation, and action. The drawings, diagrams, artists' books, videos, and pamphlets are curated by Chicago curator Tricia Van Eck, with Chicago artist Deborah Boardman and Indian artist Akshay Raj Singh Rathore. Rooting (India) - The Knowledge Project, offering free tea and coffee, encourages casual conversations and creates a meeting space for planned public discussions and workshops around various aspects of agricultural concerns.
Since the industrialization of agriculture is in its early stages in India, unlike the United States where food production is almost entirely industrialized, we believe it is an opportune time in India to gather artists, academics, activists, and citizens to address these issues. Because Kerala has a mix of climates, a strong fish trade, provides 45% of India’s plantation crops, has a rich heritage in herbal medicine and Ayurveda, and tourism related to health and spirituality, Rooting (India) - The Knowledge Project does not aim to offer singular simple solutions. Instead it presents the work of artists and collectives who are redefining the critical needs of their communities and in turn are devising their own solutions for long-term sustainability.
A little bit on my thoughts behind Bee Balm & Herringbone:
As we, with increasing speed, dismantle our environment, destroy the very biosphere that gives us life is it possible, still, for us as a world community to change our trajectory? Can we mend our ways? Can we bring back plants and animals brought to the brink of extinction? Can we salvage the power and beauty of the dying? Are there small steps we as urban people can take to treat the land and ourselves more sustainably?
These are questions I have asked myself as I embark on a project entitled, In The Time of Flowers where I explore the history of flower preservation, humanity’s enchantment with botanicals, the sustenance florals provide for us as a race as nourishment, medicinal balm and in their uplifting beauty, and if there is a way for us to mend, to bring back the flowers we have lost. Lost, meaning the flowers that have died because we have plucked them for our own delight and thus they’ve been denied the opportunity to reseed themselves, but also the seeds we have lost through time and in the changing landscapes of agriculture, and flower businesses need to alter that which was naturally occurring to theoretically better suit the consumer markets.
Above is an image of Bee Balm in conversation with embroidery stitches. Bee balm is an edible and medicinal plant. The stem, leaves and flower are edible and often used in salads, teas, oils extracted for their scents and medicinal balms and tinctures. This particular bee balm was grown in a backyard urban garden as part of a long term effort to feed my family from foods we grow ourselves. On this page the herringbone stitch is in complementary conversation with the leaves of the bee balm, hopefully highlighting the flowers angular beauty and possibly returning some life to its dried form on the page. The herringbone stitch is a cross-stitch commonly used to secure a hem, and hems being what keep our clothing in tact, possibly prevent a garment from fraying, but also something that can be let down, released to make a garment last longer as our bodies grow and change, thus I am using the stitch to represent an effort to preserve the power and possibility of the bee balm.
It is a luxury to be able to feel fully yourself in your clothing. To feel that what you wear somehow reflects who you are, be it the sweater you knit yourself or the couture garment you managed to purchase. Nearly ten years ago I found myself enamored of a hat made of recycled sweaters and that love affair, in so many ways, reflects my relationship to clothing today. I find myself drawn to lovingly made garments, clothing made with attention to details from how the fibers that make up the fabric were produced to what the labor conditions of the workers who produced said garments were. The numbers of small companies using organic wool, cotton and hemp to make clothing are slowly growing and the locally made, homemade and fair trade movements are producing increasingly lovely well-made things to wear. So, if I save my pennies every now and then it is exciting to fall in love with a dress and be able to bring it home with me. It is funny, but true that this usually happens to me with dresses. I love the dresses Christopher Totman used to make, those of Rebe at Specks and Keepings, the wonders Natalie Chanin conjures and my new found favorite, the magic of Archerie.
So, last week when I was introduced to Archerie, I loved hearing the history behind the company. Archery was the first sport that women competed in publicly. At that time wearing pants was not commonly accepted for women. Hence, they wore dresses, but useful ones. Ones that did not inhibit their work. Ones that allowed them to be who they were, to flex their muscles, release their bows. The dresses produced by Archerie today come with the suggestion that they should be worn with a slip. On the one hand slips are not in my clothing vernacular, but on the other hand it intrigues me this sense of wearing a garment that is useful and connects me to history. It has been more than a century since a certain class of women were released from corsets and petticoats. Of course there are individuals who choose to wear Spanx and other compression garments today, but generally comfort and convenience is our priority when it comes to getting dressed. Clothing that might stick is lined or clothing that is unintentionally see through is recalled. So it seems the burden is no longer on the wearer to think about the layering necessary to get dressed, but perhaps a little extra thought isn’t the worst thing. Although I haven’t owned a slip or considered owning one since I was about ten, I am intrigued by the potential to change the drape of my clothing to better suit my comfort.
My grandmother wore slips and when she passed away I gathered many of her slips into a box and brought them home to live with me. They have been hidden in my attic for the past few years, but when a dear friend recently mentioned that she was on the look out for cotton and silk slips, I thought of my granny’s slips. I unpacked the box and started sifting through. What I found was a history of carefully preserved cotton and silk slips, nearly threadbare, with straps reattached and holes lovingly darned, and then a number of floral ones of an undetermined synthetic blend. All of them smelled like her. All of them once wrapped her body, stood sentinel between her dresses and her skin. And now they will do the same for me. Each time I slip one over my head there is no doubt I will be thinking about her, wondering what she might have worn on such a day that she did the same. The straps on many of the slips are no longer fully adjustable, if they ever were, and so it is with a certain bit of irreverence to dressing properly that I happily let the tattered lace peak out from beneath my skirt. I am sure my granny would let me know that it’s snowing down south, a phrase circa 1932, to let a woman know that her slip is showing. For me, I let it show happily, it is my homage to her. And in this dress, slip and all, I feel as if I am a full expression of myself both because the dress is dreamy, but also for it’s thoughtful fabric sourcing and construction, and for allowing me the chance to connect to the generations of women who came before me.
This commences my life as a blogger. I've been weary of entering the blogosphere for eons only because I'm somewhat disorganized and often forget to follow-up on the many things that need doing in life. But, with more than a few pokes and prods and the loving support of those near and those dear, here I am. How shall I introduce myself? How shall I share bits and pieces of what needs sharing? This I do not know. So, it seems, I should start in the middle of things, from where I stand. Deep breath. Here goes.
One of my dearest loves is wandering the streets of cities both known and unknown. I look for the old in cracks on the sidewalks, on ancient windows- the sink and swirl of their glass, gaze at bricks laid one on top of another long ago. I attempt to transport myself into that city. What life would I live if this were my home? How would I be me? How would I be different? Who would I love and cherish? I look for what inspires my heart, inspires my fingers. I look for the crafty skills of makers and the signs of artisanal food. I love the quiet of my imaginings against the soundscape of the city. I love the possibility of connection with strangers, the fleeting bits of conversation shared. I love the options for transport, the common acceptance of being self-propelled, the fact that, for instance, so few residents of new york city actually own cars. Oh, I do love cities, the hot bed of chance, the act of life being lived so vividly, but I also love the rural life and everything in between. I could make an argument for each, no one more or less intriguing. Yet, when I travel alone, which is a rarity these days, it is a city that calls my name, a city that embraces me, sings me to sleep. On Thursday last, that city was the place of my birth. We had a short visit, not entirely dreamy, but one that brought me to my edge, that place where you feel the ache of what it means to be alive. Here are a few snippets of that city I love.