Saturday, May 09, 2009

Marie Watt

Museums usually run multiple exhibits concurrently, and the Northwest Museum of Art & Culture that I visited this week was no exception. The galleries running up to the main event featured other items from its permanent collection showcased by themes such as Indian artifacts and fine art. So it was a surprise to turn into one of them and find a display by contemporary artist Marie Watt. The exhibit titled "Forget-Me-Not" is described this way: "Marie Watt explores themes of remembrance, relations, and storytelling, heirlooms, and the notion of things - built, natural, spiritual - passed down from one generation to another." Now I would be lying if I said I didn't roll my eyes after a quick perusal of the exhibit. Her use of recycled blankets rather raggedly rendered into huge tapestries, the bulky dimensional flowers also made from recycled wool blankets, strings of squares looping from floor to ceiling, and particularly the centerpiece of the exhibit pictured above, all smacked of the sort of "pushing the envelop" that doesn't work for me. It just looked like so much poorly conceived and constructed art meant to strike a sentimental nerve and thus be difficult to criticize without inadvertently criticizing the subject of her theme - fallen servicemen and women.

Fortunately, I managed to put my prejudice aside and take a closer look at what Marie was doing. The above is called "Catastrophe" and only shows about half of the piece. Think three or four large wool blankets wide. Because of the dimness of the lighting, it took me awhile to see what was going on in this section.

The applique pieces are stitched down with long stitches, maybe an inch long. Click on this or any picture for a larger view. Very subtle.

When Marie recycles, she recycles! Again, it took me a moment to realize that this section of another very large piece was blanket ends with the satin bindings still intact. These are probably 4 to 5 inches wide.

Here, she has taken larger strips of blankets with their satin bindings and overlapped them, almost log cabin style.

I really grew to appreciate Marie's skill as I entered the circular "Forget-Me-Not: Mothers and Sons." The webbing that serves as background is again, wool blankets that have been slit. The portraits hung upon it are only about 6 inches high and meticulously appliqued from wool. Here her stitches disappear into the soft wool.

Who are these people? Here is Marie's own explanation of this piece:

"Forget-me-not is about memory, story, and devotion. In part, it stems from my disinclination toward abstraction of war by the modern media. Television, in particular, does not lend itself to considering individuals: we are taught to refer to our servicemen and women as 'troops,' which is a collective term. It wasn't enough for me. As a mother, I wanted to know more about the sons and daughters from my community who were sacrificing themselves in our name...Making these portraits helped me to do that.

I am a Seneca woman, a member of a matrilineal society. The Iroquois concept of 'mother' is broad, extending from one's own mother through a long line of women...So it was with this view of motherhood in mind - and its dense web of connections extending across generations - that I asked the men I know to suggest women who were significant to them to include in this work."

Each portrait along with explanatory text can be viewed here:

I have to admit that once I entered the circle, I realized what an effective vehicle this was for her intent. In some ways it was a little like viewing the Vietnam VeteransWar Memorial - a simple backdrop to name after name of the fallen. But in this case, it was not names that stared back, but faces, and not a long flat surface, but a soft encircling one. Knowing their fate, I found I couldn't look at them for long. Again, quoting from Marie's statement:

"The result, I hope, is conversation and communion among individuals: those hung from the web of the circle and those, like you, within it. It is a conversation that I intend to expand...I wish Forget-me-not were finished. But I fear I will be adding men and women to its web for some time."



I really enjoyed reading this, and about the bits you found out about the piece. Thank you for sharing it!

The Idaho Beauty said...

Glad you enjoyed it!