For various reasons, this was one the most inspiring trips I have taken in a long time. The Surface Design Conference itself was amazing: it was my first time attending. It only happens every two years. There were times when I was a bit disappointed that content was not discussed more thoroughly in some of the sessions, but, for someone like me (a relative newcomer to working with fiber, and a scavenger of techniques and materials), it was a smorgasbord, because the (primarily) women who participate in the conference are always pushing boundaries in techniques, and there is much to be absorbed. Unlike the "contemporary art world", techniques are shared quite readily, and everyone is extraordinarily friendly (most say this is because it is a field populated with women). Some of these women live in rural parts of the country, where they are the only woman "like them" for hundreds of miles. I also belong to the New York Textile Study Group, although I only make the meetings 2-3 times a year, (which is fine for me, because I prefer to stay peripheral when it comes to organized groups). Except for a few years in grad school, when I was trying to be "one of the guys" in a painting department, I have always been interested in fabric and clothing, marching to the beat of my own drum and having a great deal of fun doing so. I will never forget how euphoric it was to walk into the NYTSG meeting, and see a bunch of fearless women who were in love with color, texture and outrageous design. I felt like I had found my tribe: other people who, like me, want to tease their art into other areas of their lives.
One of the highlights of the conference was a lecture by Maria Elena Buszek, Ph.D, author of "Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, and Popular Culture" (a book I coincidentally have on my nightstand mountain of to-read books). This lecture was entitled "Extra/Ordinary: Craft Culture and Contemporary Art". She is currently editing a book of the same name, which will be published by Duke University Press. The line-blurring between the two has been in process for a long time... she showed fantastic work, made by many artists who might reach for the paint brush one week, and a needle and thread the next, following the content wherever it might lead.
Then there was the Kemper museum, which has a Petah Coyne in the entrance that made me gasp, and the Phantasmania exhibit that blew me away. The catalog is not available on amazon, so I bought a physical copy and schlepped it back, something I almost never do anymore. I am taking the catalog on my upcoming trip, so I promise you will get some links to the featured artists in the next few days.
In the tiny bit of down time and great amount of travel time, I was embroidering one of my projects and finishing the book "Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born", by Denise Shekerjian, a wonderful way to tie up this particular trip. The author interviews 40 winners of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship: artists, scientists, composers, anthropologists, etc., and tries to find the common links in their creativity. It is not a hokey "how to be creative" book, but one that does find many common threads connecting these disparate people. It is a difficult book to put down, and my first impulse upon finishing it was to start reading it again, but I have piles of other stuff to do before I leave.