Stitched to the Earth:
Narratives of Work
Fragments of Recycled
An Exhibit by Diana Berek
June 4, 2011 to July 2, 2011
Saturday, June 4, 6PM to 8 PM
The Anchor Gallery at
Red Lion Lincoln Square
4749 N Rockwell (at Lawrence)
just steps from the Brown Line
more information: e-mail email@example.com
The Fabric of the Journey: Artist’s Statement
“I know your wheat fields and copper mines and hobo jungles. I’ve left sweat on your prairies and, as an eagle, perched on the pinnacle of your Rocky Mountains, I’ve seen your splendid beauty from Kansas to Oregon. Grant me one wish. Be more good than beautiful. Show me yams and cotton and steel and coal unstained by corruption and tears. You would be a gentle thing without your thugs and lynch mobs. Some day I’ll tear out your claws. come close and love you.”
Nelson Peery, Black Fire, 1993
Stitched to the Earth is an exhibit of fabric constructions using fragments of discarded denim blue jeans which are sewn together and stretched over stretcher bars (a frame) to be a composition in which the worn and faded material becomes the pigment as well as the support. In that sense, they are “paintings”. While some of the resultant constructions take on the appearance of aerial landscapes, others become abstract narratives of the history of work. This is because the worn and frayed denim points to the time spent and the physical work or play experienced in wearing the jeans. There is a story unfolding before us as we look at them.
I am fascinated by the history of blue jeans as a functional article of clothing for work, leisure, high fashion and pop culture — so much woven into this cloth. In this series, the fragments of blue jeans are a metaphor for the fragmented lives spent in search of the myth of American renewal.
In 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that the principal American archetype was the continual expansion of the frontier and its corollary of always being able to start over by moving on. Turner, and others before and after him posited that the American frontier was a vast empty landscape waiting for American development and American Democracy to unroll like a giant carpet from “sea to shining sea”. The concept of an open waiting frontier persisted in the American imagination in spite of the reality that many civilizations with rich, diverse cultures had inhabited the land for centuries. The broken treaties and clashes over territory and land rights did nothing to diminish misguided hopes and dreams of wave upon wave of western settlers, cowboys, gold rush miners, developers, entrepreneurs (like Levi Strauss) and politicians. “Nothing was permanent, failure was only a temporary state of existence. . . the perennial optimism engendered by the frontier was nothing less than the seminal characteristic of American society”. (“The Resurgence of Frontier Politics” Non-Partisan 9/19/06).
The 20th century saw the geographic frontier fill up with cities and disappear. With its going, the first period of American history closed. The next period of American history continued to seek imperial frontiers through expansionist policies in Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and The Phillipines. New frontiers also developed in science, art, literature and cinema. John F. Kennedy campaigned on the slogan of “A New Frontier”. The close of the frontier era was the beginning of the American culture’s romantic creation of a frontier myth.
This romantic frontier myth is as embedded in the denim fabric of our blue jeans as is the grit and sweat of 2 centuries of labor that farmed the land, built the railroads, mined the coal and worked in the factories. Because of the durability of denim and the uniquely functional design created by Levi Strauss, blue jeans, still, are the clothing of work and leisure for everyone: rich or poor, urban or rural, farmland or Indian reservation, and everything in between. The idea of endless frontier and renewal is particularly interesting in this historical moment of our national debate over migration and immigration.
We fall in love with our blue jeans. We seek the perfect fit. We wear them until they are in shreds or we buy them already distressed, stone washed or pre-worn vintage. Blue jeans are the symbol of our complex and often contradictory American character. Ralph Lauren advertises his designer blue jeans in the large, western landscape. Levis Inc. appeals to the average beer drinking, hard working guy with their ads, while Calvin Klein sets his designer jeans in a sexy, seductive challenge to pursue personal success and individual freedom in the upwardly mobile urban frontier.
In this exhibit, I focus on the aspirations of people struggling to pursue their vision of a promised land. In reassembling fragments of blue jeans, I look for the “story” of working class people through the metaphor of fragments of denim, much of it rescued from dumpsters in the alley, discarded, like a broken dream. Within the warp and weft is the fierce need for renewal in a land of hope and dreams. The beautiful patination of the washed blue dye tells of happier moments, family celebrations and material achievements, but there are also the torn knees, frayed holes and faded patches that point to hard work, disappointments, losses and setbacks. Some of these compositions explore our work on the land in the settling of the frontier and the building of cities. In others, I have concentrated on the narrative of migration and the recognition of the hardship of workers seeking their “promised land”. Denim is the fabric of our collective journey.