Two practices, listening to hidden stories and engagement with communities, tie together my 43 years of art-making. I began developing these methods in 1972 while working with Haida basket maker Lena Dunstan, who taught me “how to make your own song by the sounds around you.” My apprenticeship with Lena was life-changing, as were my conceptual studies with poet David Antin who introduced me to counter-narrative forms at UCSD. In the 1970s and 80’s, alternative feminist narratives structured my weavings, performances, and artist’s books, including: Public Document, Soupkitchenwork, and The Green River Trilogy.
Eliciting hidden stories through community engagement is a practice I also employ in my
public art projects, including Shoreview Points, Neototems, Recharge Chambers, and Sentinels. For each project, the conceptual approach of listening to community residents inspires me to make art that resonates with the history of the community, providing a forum for future conversations. This process brings invisible stories to life, enabling art to become part of an ongoing dialogue with children and adults. My whales express this impulse as they evoke a subterranean song - of issues of violence against people and creatures, including the possibilities of healing and repair.
The connective tissues in my works are the hidden voices I seek to make heard. I worked with basket weaver Lena Dunstan in the performance Public Document, with homeless residents of the Cascade community to develop the performance, Soupkitchenwork, went drumming with Macah tribal members for Neototems project, and listened to activist Donnie Chin for Sentinels.
My public and freestanding artworks are like collective songs emerging from these dialogues, which will be re-sung and retold, generating ongoing conversations about Northwest life. A hallmark of my practice is flexibility regarding medium. Each story project requires its own medium, each “song” realized in materials determined by the concept: weaving, performance, installation, and public art in bronze, water, and glass.
My process has also been informed by my training as a psychotherapist, through which I observed counter-memory in dreaming and storytelling. The dialogue between the conscious and unconscious in psychology mirrors the dialogue between the artist and the community in my interactive art. Respect for counter-narratives and engagement with interior and exterior lives is a theme driving all my art.
Sometimes the voice of my unconscious emerges in my studio installations. The artwork Gauging developed from my travels to Nagasaki, my husband’s family home. While visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki, I saw charred remains of artifacts, including children’s lunchboxes with ashes of rice. My experience triggered memories of my own family’s experience during the Holocaust.
I am currently realizing this art-making practice in a new series of weavings using tapestry looms and texts. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, my arena for art-making has been redefined, but it has not stopped my creative process as it continues to take new forms. In the current project, I have been focusing on 43 years of scribbles and dreams in 115 notebooks, reflecting multivalent voices and identities. It brings me full circle to my early basketry art with the experience and wisdom gleaned from mediums and stories I have learned along the way.
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