what is the Soft Unnecessary?

Summer at Dickinson House

When I lived in Minneapolis, in a third-floor one-bedroom apartment, alone with its wood floors and hexagon-tile bathroom and tiny kitchen and built-in cabinets, I would often sew in shorts and a tank top very late at night, listening to the BBC World Service as the open window brought in cold air (winter—central heating in old buildings in Minneapolis meant no individual control over how hot the apartments were) or the hot, humid air of late summer. I made all kinds of things but a few stick with me. One was a skirt I made for a fellow student in my MFA program: a mid-calf-length, formal skirt with a net petticoat and a beautiful waistband. A skirt for occasions. I only have photographs of that skirt now, and I have no idea whether my fellow student kept it or ended up giving it away after it no longer suited her. But it remains one of the things I am most proud to have made, a foundation of what I make now.

Then there are these. If you have been reading this space since it began back in 2003 or so, you have seen these. Pomflowers, I called them. In the linked photo they decorate a hair comb. But that was an afterthought. They really existed because I found it intensely pleasurable to make them. I noticed the form first when I was staying in Venice during the summer of 2005 (a pair attached to the toes of a pair of shoes in a window on my daily walk to school). And I drew them in my sketchbook and came home to engineer them. And then I couldn’t stop making them. I made hundreds. Why? There was no reason, although I used them for things eventually. Well, there was a reason, just not a reason as in I’ll make this so I can [x]. The reason was finding out what the form could do. I still work that way: when I get interested in a form I will make it or observe it over and over to find its patterns and combinations. (I watched this video six times in a row the other night, at which point Jonathan insisted I turn it off. I wasn’t sure why.)

Over the past year I’ve begun making objects that echo the pomflowers to me. One is in the photo above; I made it into a brooch for my friend Sarah for her birthday. There are maybe five? six? of these now. Some of them I feel are more successful than others—which tells me they are indeed about an investigation of form. They’re also kind of barnacles, collections of things adhering to a base, and like barnacles they say things about time, place, movement of medium (time, water). They are disproportionately pleasing to make: soft, in colors and materials I enjoy, and without an end goal. I make the form new and reinvestigate its prior iterations each time.

I saw Lisa Solomon’s post about her exhibition Mata Sen at the Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles on Instagram (de facto blogging platform, these days, eh?) and it stirred this feeling in me—the attraction to series, especially to very large series, and to repetition, and to the color pink, and to ‘useless’ things, which certainly these 1000 knots are—but by their immensity and their repetition they become meaningful in the same way that religious buildings do. They are not ‘useful’ in the way capital demands (in themselves, I mean. Obviously monumental-scale artworks do participate in capital) but in the way that all beauty is: superfluously, exorbitantly. They are necessary once they exist. I could not imagine the world without them. Lisa’s work continues to teach and encourage me in my pursuit of form, in my belief that we can make things that mean outside of—or at least gesture to meaning outside of—the violent and desparate systems in which we live. Proficiat, Lisa, beautiful work. And merci. From Belgium. Where, after all, I am.

(3) Comments

  1. Thanks, that Axis of Awesome was simply AMAZING!

    Those ‘pomflowers’ look a lot like things a friend of ours who lives in Japan makes. She sends us one every year at New Year’s time (O-Shogatsu).

  2. hello friend. i am SO moved by your words. thank you for them. you are reminding why i miss writing and how thinking is part of the whole process. xoxo

  3. I wish I could see your show, Lisa. It looked so amazing in the photos. Miss you. XOXO

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