Today I leave Kansas City 150 lbs lighter: my coat will stay behind at the Belger Art Center as part of their collection. Mo was very patient as I blathered incessantly on my way out the door, only looking at me like I was slightly crazy. I was exactly like a new mother leaving her infant with the babysitter for the first time... no, I was exactly like an obsessive control freak mother leaving her baby alone with the sitter for the first time, trying to think of every contingency: "If the baby needs to burp, call my mother, because she does it best... oh, oh, and if the baby's head falls off, call 911."
Defense Mechanism Coat, 2001, velvet, nails, wool, hand embroidery, 45 x 28 x 12"
I made the coat in 2001. It has been around for a while, and I have shown it many times without incident (except once, when my instructions were not followed), and there is no reason to be believe that anything will go wrong, but it has never been hung without yours truly there to oversee the process. The one time I was not there to oversee the take-down, they put it (don't ask me how) directly into the wood crate without its protective blanket, and I spent hours pulling little wood slivers and lint from between the nails the next time it was shown. I am nervous because it is not exactly like selling a painting. I have never made anything before it or since that that was even remotely like this coat. Just make sure the hanger is always facing in the right direction before you lift it, or the weight will fall backwards and the coat will slide off the hanger. But if you hang it properly, you won't be able to budge it, even an inch, once it is hung, so make sure everything is positioned where you want it to be before you raise it up. Don't forget the moth balls if you are not going to put it in a case.
The precursor to the Defense Mechanism Coat was a heart shaped box, made to decorate my home, not to exhibit. Originally, the interior was painted with veins, then I added the quilted, embroidered padding. A visiting curator decided to put the box in my solo show, "Fate of A technicolor Romantic", at The Hollywood Art & Culture Center in Hollywood, FL in 2000. The piece was purchased by some collector friends after the show and was not exhibited again. Their housekeeper hates dusting this box.
The coat itself was created during the months of May, June, July and August in 2001. It occupied the dining room table for four months in my small, but quaint, rented bungalow in Hollywood, FL. Occasionally, I got help moving it in order that I might have a dinner party. I hired my first assistant to help me complete the coat when my wrists began to give out from pushing all the nails through the wool.
The original blue wool coat was found at the Red, White and Blue Thrift store in North Miami. I wanted a blue coat to contrast with the complementary-colored interior, and the nails, which would eventually rust. The coat originally had a black fake-fur collar. Roofing nails were chosen for their bruise-like blue/purple/green patina, as well as the large heads. They were acquired at Arch Creek Lumber in North Miami, in three separate batches of 50 lbs, as I had no idea how many I might need. One of the batches was free, provided I return with a photo of the artwork. When I returned with a photo a few months later, the longstanding business had closed, a result of the new Home Depot down the road. The coat weighs approximately 150 lbs. I ripped out the lining of the thrift store coat, and used it as a pattern to make a new lining of flesh-colored velvet. In the original sketchbook drawing, the lining was to be flesh colored satin, but while in NYC shopping at MOOD, a favorite designer fabric remnant place, I spotted flesh-colored velvet. It was a supreme sacrifice to use it for the coat rather than a dress for myself. A few months later, I spotted a magazine photo of Kate Hudson in a Jean Paul Gaultier dress made out of this very fabric.
The interior of the coat was hand embroidered with all the major veins and arteries of the body.
Several days before the exhibition opened, after many sleepless nights finishing work for the show, I stood staring at the coat in a sleep-deprived stupor and wept, because I had rarely made any three dimensional objects before (being a B- student in 3-d design), and had never made anything this substantial and massive: I could not believe that it had evolved from a little sketch in my sketchbook to this behemoth.
The coat was first exhibited at the Broward Community College Art Gallery, in Davie, FL. The coat was one of 5 new pieces for that show. The exhibition opening reception was on August 30th, 2001, a week and a half before 9/11, so the opening was well-attended, but the exhibition was not.
When Radley was only a few months old, we took a 10 day long road trip to Amherst, MA, to drive the coat to the Fiber Arts Foundation. This photo was taken on that trip. As a single woman with two herniated discs, there were times when I dragged the coat by myself, lifting one end, then the other, into the back of my Honda CRV, swearing that I was never going to show this *!%$ coat again. But then I drove it up and back to Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, the Frost Museum in Miami, past post-9/11 security at the Miami International Airport gallery, and SUNY Geneseo in upstate NY. In between exhibitions, I tripped over the huge crate stored in the corner of my studio. Once I got married, there were two of us cursing this poor unwieldy monster of an artwork every time we had to move or store it, wondering when we would find a home for this 150 lb. limp porcupine.
And now we have. I've a check in my pocket, 4 more months' worth of credit in studio time, an additional 12 square feet in my house, and I never have to move that bloody thing again. And I am sure that, after a few months, I will no longer have the urge to call and check with the Belger, just to make sure everything is alright.