a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
Interview with Rachelle Gardner
JC: When was Your UCP Residency?
I had a great window space in the Bonfils Studios during from the fall 2008 into the spring of 2009. This luckily coincided with an Inspiration Grant from the Arts Council, which allowed me to complete my first installations in the old Jenkins Music Co. window spaces and even pushed me to try my hand at performance, which was a totally unexpected outcome of the whole experience.
Jonah Criswell: What have you done since your UCP Residency, how has it affected you?
Rachelle Gardner: My time at the UCP Residency allowed me to experiment with media that simply was not possible in my previous location. The freedom to make a mess, if need be, is a beloved luxury as an artist! I completed my first public installation during the residency, made my first forays into the realm of performance art as well and completed my first successful grant.
As far as impact on my current work, I’ve realized that working with fibers and textiles was a slow, but inevitable transition, and there was a real break-through moment as I worked on an installation titled, False Idols, for a UCP Residency Group Exhibition. The installation included the first stitching of any kind in my work and now my most recent work consists entirely of stitching! The time and space to explore at the UCP Residency absolutely advanced my work as an artist and I, along with many others, am grateful that such a program exists in Kansas City
JC: You mentioned having a breakthrough moment during your residency, what circumstances do you think create break through moments in a studio practice?
RG: In this instance, a break-through moment (and I’m not sure I even knew it was such a moment at the time) occurred while a group of us were installing our work for a Studio Residency Exhibition at The Paragraph Gallery. The space and energy of an exhibition feels so dramatically different to the artists involved than to observers. When empty space slowly morphs into this collective entity, there is a lot of energy there, especially if there is a focus on installation work. Even if you think you know exactly what you want, it can change shape as you interact with these creative beings around you. With an opening date looming, you also get to a “this has to work, and it has to work now” moment, and this energized space can give you more guts to go beyond your comfort zone, hopefully with good results. My particular moment involved unleashing a heat gun on delicate plastic that I’d spent hours stitching and a tiny prayer that I wasn’t about to melt it all to oblivion, but, it’s different for everyone.
JC: From the images you shared with me, you use a lot of complex organic forms, do you think that your interest in stitching and textiles is an extension of drawing or is it something else? What do you get from stitching that you don’t get from drawing?
RG: I think almost all of my textile work is an extension of drawing. No matter the medium, initially I have to get the idea on paper, so I am a prolific thumbnail sketcher, which stems from my days in architecture school. Since I need to have a sketchbook wherever I turn, the trick is remembering where in the world is that one piece of paper with that one certain drawing! Also, the particular machine stitching techniques I am currently using are drawing essentially. The needle is the pencil, and the fabric is the paper. Rather than manipulating a pencil, my hands move the “paper” around, which draws the thread onto the fabric. It’s just the inverse of drawing. Originally, my interest in textiles came through felting. The family farm, the wooly beasts that reside there, and most especially my mother’s vast knowledge base, technical resources and patience were key influences on that path. That simple experiential knowledge transfer down through the generations is almost sacred to me, which brings me to what I love about textiles!
I find a richer language and more room for expression in textiles than I did in drawing. I am in love with process and technique and whether I am dyeing, felting, dissolving, or melting, there is so much going on microscopically. Textiles allowed me to connect with these forces on a conceptual level. The process of how I make something has become increasingly key to the concept of the work and is just as important as the end result. While my current sewn work is very like drawing, the process that literally transforms a piece involves dissolving the fabric structure and I could easily go into an enthusiastic diatribe about what the conceptual and philosophical implications of dissolution mean to me! Whereas, with drawing, while the end result was pleasing, it only required the same repetitive action over and over again and was simply a means to an end. I just don’t find that as interesting and if I’m not fascinated by what I’m doing, there’s not much point in doing it.