“I Don’t Make Rotten Art. I Make Art That Rots.”
or “How My Woodland Fashion Design Began”
I am an avid trail walker. Fortunately, I lived close to a beautiful state park in Massachusetts. I walked the trails practically daily throughout the summer before returning to my second home Argentina. One day as I was walking a short boardwalk I found myself stopping and gazing into the woods to my left. A thought came across my mind. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the public looked into that wood and saw a dress around a tree? It would be an expression of beauty. It would make people stop and give interest and entice them to see nature’s paintbox all around them.” The thought rose in me each time I walked that particular path, so much so that I felt compelled to take action.
The state park’s employees knew me and my work. I had created a large 7′ mandala installation for a national art show (BANJAE) right outside the park’s historic stone mansion entrance. The rangers and volunteers helped me transport my “stash” of foraged items left in different areas of the park. They were incredibly supportive. One day when arriving at the visitor’s center one of the rangers was talking with a woman about the park. I overheard him referring to me. “That’s the park’s artist. She works with things she finds on the ground you should see what she creates!”
The dress concept was new so I wanted to construct it off-site first to see how it would work. I would, of course, ask for approval to hang it in the park’s woods. Making earth mandala installations is very different than making hanging art. There’s no ground to support an earth dress and it’s vertical. It meant a different part of my brain would need to engage to deal with the gravity issue. I call that part “The Engineer Brain”. How would I keep things in place without wire or commercial glues when the piece swayed in the wind?
The first earth dress was constructed around a tree in the backyard. The tree was about 25 inches around. I used biodegradable jute and random sticks found on the ground to make a corset. The first design utilized a Y-stick shaped with moss, but it looked too saloon gal and I wanted the dress to look more “innocent” so I changed the style of the bodice. For the skirt, I used old corn cobs. The orangy color and texture gave it some flair. I also incorporated sweet gum balls and lavender. The texture of natural items is vast.
This first dress did not go to the state park. It was photographed and entered into a national art show. The photograph was accepted as an entry. The show was not far from where I was staying so when I dropped off the framed photograph I was asked if I would like to do an installation outside for the opening. YES! Except for the trees at the front entrance of the building would require an enormous dress! It took three people with outstretched arms to encircle the tree! I needed another plan. It was then that I started to make dresses that hung from trees rather than wrap around them.
Sticking to my resolve of 100% biodegradable materials I set to creating a paper armature using recycled, no ink, non-dyed paper and a basic flour/water paste. From there the engineering mind took over with jute, moss, stems, herbs, etc. I found a book from 1914 titled “Henley’s 20th Century Book of Formulas, Processes and Trade Secrets” (pre-plastics) and experimented with several natural glue formulas. I found the discovery process to be so exciting and at the same time frustrating. This free-hanging dress stayed at the property for the dates of the show and was then moved to the state park formal gardens to decompose gracefully.
Each year when I came back to the area from South America I made a dress to be hung at the visitor’s center. There was “Pixie” constructed of the large green leaves of the catalpa tree. “Pixie” and “Summer Dance” made an appearance during Maker’s Day at the Children’s Museum. The children were fascinated. “Peppy” was constricted of fallen milkweed pods and acorn tops. She was a great tool for teaching kids about how important milkweed is to the butterflies. “Peppy” had construction time outside another historic property, the Queset House. Several of my pieces have been displayed in the reconstructed 1920’s gardens on the shared grounds of the Queset House and the Easton Public Library.
All of these dresses were a joy and a challenge to construct. And yes, they all are ephemeral. They dehydrate, wither, and disintegrate as we do. That is one part of the message of my work. All things will pass. Life is temporary.
And what now in Central Florida? Am I still making dresses? Yes, but things have changed up a bit. I have made dresses without sticking to my 100% biodegradable rule so as to have them stay around for a long time. They are used as display and teaching tools. And also for inspiration. I love watching people look deeply at them and be so surprised to find they are made out of magnolia, sweetgum and pacara tree pods. I take creative license and use wood stains and acrylic paints to color the Spanish moss in order to make the dresses more impactful. Wire and commercial glues are used as well, but as they are for display to inspire I am ok with them not rotting so quickly and falling back to the earth.
So as I wrote above, “I don’t make rotten art. I make art that rots – sometimes.”
Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It,… ‘Tis but an hour ago since it was nine, And after one hour more ‘twill be eleven. And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, And then from hour to hour we rot and rot; And thereby hangs a tale.’